Heartburn Danger Signs

Many people think heartburn is uncomfortable but not a serious health problem. They’re wrong. The American College of Gastroenterology says that frequent (occurring at least twice a week) unresolved heartburn can be serious. It’s a symptom of GERD, a potentially serious problem.

GERD is a severe form of heartburn which may be associated with esophageal ulcers, esophageal bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus known as peptic stricture, and even a premalignant condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

There are three causes of GERD: The esophagus’s normal defenses are overwhelmed by the acid content of the stomach, the contents of the stomach are too acidic, or the food is not cleared from the esophagus fast enough.


Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase likelihood of developing GERD. A review of data on 51,637 postmenopausal women in the Nurses’ Health Study found that HRT increases the risk of getting gastroesophageal reflux disease. Women who use selective estrogen receptor modulators—like tamoxifen for breast cancer and raloxifene for osteoporosis—also are at higher risk for developing GERD.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Persistent and severe heartburn that isn’t treated or comes back quickly with over-the-counter medicine may signal other problems. If your symptoms become worse, if you take medication longer than directed on the label or are having problems swallowing, then it may be time to seek medical attention.

Also there are a few foods that worsen heartburn and should be avoided, such as:

  • Allspice

  • Black pepper

  • Chili peppers or powder

  • Chocolate

  • Cinnamon

  • Citrus

  • Cucumber

  • Curry

  • Fried foods

  • Garlic

  • Horseradish

  • Mustard

  • Nutmeg

  • Onion

  • Peppermint

  • Radishes

  • Sugar

  • Tomatoes

  • Vinegar

Is it true that smoking cigarettes is good for heartburn?

Not at all. Cigarette smoking exacerbates heartburn by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, which allows stomach acid to travel backward and enter the esophagus.

Beverages that should be avoided include:

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeinated drinks

  • Carbonated drinks

  • Coffee

  • Grapefruit or orange juice

  • (fresh-squeezed may be better)

  • Nonherbal tea

  • Tomato juice

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