If you’ve ever had a burning sensation at the bottom of your throat or your esophagus, you’re no stranger to heartburn. However, there’s a lot of confusion about what heartburn is and the difference between heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. There’s a good reason for the confusion, that’s because these terms are used interchangeably, but in reality, they’re different from each other.
-Heartburn is a symptom. It has nothing to do with your heart, and everything to do with stomach acid. The lining of your stomach is made to deal with the corrosive nature of the acid it produces, but when it moves up into the more sensitive tissue of your esophagus, it burns. Heartburn involves a hot sensation, sometimes with pressure that is felt around the center of your chest (which can feel like your heart) or up into your throat. Heartburn is usually felt after eating, and is frequently aggravated by lying down.
-Acid reflux is caused by the weakening of a small muscle at the bottom of your esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. Its job is to tighten after you’ve eaten, to keep food in your stomach, where it belongs. However, the LES muscle can become weak or loose and allow food and stomach acid to move back up into your esophagus. The most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn. However, it can also cause a sore or scratchy throat, cough, or a sour, bitter or funny taste in your throat or mouth.
-GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It’s considered to be chronic acid reflux—occurring several times a week, or often enough that it creates inflammation in your esophagus. GERD increases your risk of developing a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a risk factor for esophageal cancer. The symptoms of GERD include the same symptoms of acid reflux, plus actual regurgitation of your stomach contents, bad breath, asthma, difficulty swallowing, and erosion of your tooth enamel from exposure to stomach acid.
While many people have heartburn or reflux symptoms from time to time, GERD is often related to anatomical changes or lifestyle habits that make this condition chronic. Being overweight, smoking, excessive use of alcohol, and certain medications can weaken your esophageal sphincter. In addition, something called a hiatal hernia, in which your stomach bulges upward and affects your esophagus, can cause GERD. While stress and emotional upsets may not be a direct cause of reflux and GERD, it can aggravate any symptoms that you may be having.
Treating Acid Reflux, GERD, and Heartburn
There’s good news when it comes to reflux conditions, and it’s that they are usually very treatable, especially with lifestyle modifications and natural treatments. There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that neutralize or reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. However, many people are looking for a longer-term solution that doesn’t inhibit their digestive process. In addition, some of these medications produce a rebound effect, in which symptoms are aggravated, when the medications are discontinued.
At BodaHealth, our first line of treatments for patients with GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, naturopathic medicine, and dietary therapy. These treatments can be effective on their own or to augment treatment with medications for very severe cases. Here’s how each one can help:
-A number of people with reflux conditions have turned to acupuncture for relief, and for a good reason. Researchers have found that acupuncture can improve esophageal function, decrease reflux symptoms, and improve quality of life in patients with GERD. In addition, acupuncture helps to relieve stress, promote good digestion, decrease inflammation, and support the overall healing process.
–Chinese herbs may be used in conjunction with acupuncture to extend the effects of the treatment. There are a number of herbs in Chinese medicine that are used to regulate your stomach acid, help support esophageal function, and promote healthy digestion. They are usually combined into formulas to best suit your unique needs.
–Naturopathic medicine may also be an important part of treating your reflux condition. Our naturopathic doctors are able to evaluate your digestion and gut health, nutritional status, and test for any toxic substances that may be affecting your health. Once they have a complete picture, they may prescribe herbs, vitamins, other supplements, and medications, when necessary. They will also work with you to develop diet and lifestyle strategies to address not only your symptoms, but also the underlying cause of your condition.
-While your diet may not be the underlying cause of your reflux condition, what you eat can definitely affect the frequency and severity of your symptoms. At BodaHealth, our Chinese medicine practitioners, holistic nutritionists and naturopathic physicians are able to work with you to develop a diet designed to eliminate your symptoms and promote a good digestive health.
Living with GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn can impact your life in many ways. It’s painful, limits what you choose to eat, and takes the joy out of eating the foods you love. At BodaHealth, we have highly trained and experienced practitioners who understand reflux conditions and are ready to help. Contact us today to find out how.