Of all the people that have heartburn, only a few will experience frequent heartburn. Having this constant heartburn could be a sign of more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
The Dangers of Chronic Heartburn
In the past, having frequent heartburn was not taken too seriously. However, in recent years with advances in medical technology and increasingly long expectancies, it is become quite apparent that a lifetime of constant heartburn can lead to dangerous conditions.
Repeated exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid due to chronic heartburn leads to morphological changes to the tissue over time. While heartburn is bearable in the short term, frequent heartburn can result in
- Esophageal cancer
- Esophageal ulcers
- Esophageal strictures (spots of constant muscle contraction which lead to difficulties swallowing)
- Barrett’s Esophagus (damaged esophagus lining which increases risk of esophageal cancer)
As a result of the long-term effects of constant heartburn, the term GERD was born. Many laugh about the fact that what was once heartburn now has a big abbreviation, but there is a significant difference between this chronic heartburn that some experience compared to the occasional heartburn that the rest of the population experiences, both in terms of its effect on our long term health and quality of life.
Stopping Chronic Heartburn
In the short-term, these simple heartburn remedies can provide heartburn relief. For more serious cases of frequent heartburn, medication may be advised. However, there are some long-term effects of heartburn medication, make these not ideal for everyone (see our heartburn medication article for details on medications and their side effects).
The easiest way to deal with chronic heartburn is to make lifestyle changes. Lifestyle modifications are recommended by the National Institute of Health and National Library of Medicine (source).
Lifestyle changes should include:
- Cessation of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine usage
- Avoiding problem foods (everyone is different – keep track of which foods give you heartburn and avoid those)
- Avoid tight belts and pants, which may compress the stomach
- Losing Weight (if overweight)
- Do not eat within a few hours of bed time
- Elevate at the head by a few inches, placing your body on a slight incline.
Unavoidable Causes of Chronic Heartburn
Being pregnant, particularly later in the pregnancy, places a lot of pressure on the stomach and can lead to chronic heartburn until pregnancy is over. For many while the tips above will help, heartburn may not be completely avoidable. Try out heartburn remedies for help dealing with pregnancy related heartburn.
Additionally, undergoing therapy for the elimination of H pylori significantly increases your risks of developing GERD (1). As a result, if you had an ulcer due to H pylori and were treated for it, chronic heartburn may be in your future. Lifestyle changes may not be enough to stop frequent heartburn in this situation.
If Lifestyle Changes Do Not Stop Constant Heartburn
In most situations, lifestyle changes will be enough to quell frequent heartburn. However, if lifestyle change are not enough, you will want to talk to your doctor about managing your heartburn.
1. Ghoshal UC, Chourasia D. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Helicobacter pylori: What May Be the Relationship? J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2010 Jul;16(3):243-50.