This Is When You Should Be Worried About Heartburn

An occasional bout of heartburn, especially after eating a heavy meal or spicy foods, is common and normal (via Cleveland Clinic). The painful, burning sensation in the chest, neck, and throat can often be relieved by over-the-counter medications like antacids and lifestyle changes, like avoiding trigger foods. But if you're experiencing frequent or severe heartburn, it may be a sign of a more serious medical condition that needs treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should make an appointment with your doctor if you have heartburn that occurs more than twice a week, your symptoms don't respond to over-the-counter medication, you have difficulty swallowing, you experience persistent nausea or vomiting, or if you've experienced weight loss due to lack of appetite or trouble eating. These may be signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Your doctor can diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan to help you feel better. If you feel severe chest pain or pressure combined with other symptoms like pain in the jaw or arm or trouble breathing, seek medical help right away, as these may be signs of a heart attack.

Treatments available for severe heartburn

A number of medications are available to treat symptoms of GERD (via Cleveland Clinic). These include over-the-counter antacids, H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Prescription-strength versions of these drugs can be provided by a doctor if over-the-counter formulations are not working. Although medications and lifestyle changes are usually sufficient to treat GERD, if symptoms persist or long-term medication is not an option, your doctor may recommend surgery.

People with GERD can also make changes to their diet and lifestyle to reduce symptoms. In addition to avoiding foods that trigger heartburn, you should wait at least three hours after eating to go to bed, as lying down can make heartburn worse. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes or belts, as these can squeeze your stomach and push acid up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn. Raising the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches can also help prevent symptoms. Finally, since obesity and smoking are risk factors for GERD and can make symptoms worse, aim to maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking.