You've probably eaten a large, spicy meal at one time or another, only to end up with an upset stomach (or other digestive woes). The occasional bout of heartburn isn't something of great concern, but when it happens frequently, it's time to stop and take notice. Some common symptoms of digestive distress include:
Heartburn, that all-too-familiar burning sensation in your chest, throat and stomach, affects about 20% of Americans at least once a week. Sometimes called "acid indigestion," it occurs when stomach acid comes up from the stomach and into the throat. If this happens repeatedly it can result in esophagitis, ulcers, or strictures (narrowing of the esophagus) and can increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Regularly-occurring heartburn can also be a sign of a more serious condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Indigestion, also called "dyspepsia," is defined as persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Indigestion is common and can affect people of all ages. But persistent indigestion is often the sign of an underlying problem, such as GERD, ulcers, or gallbladder disease.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), defined as chronic reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, affects 5-7% of the population. The two symptoms that indicate you could have GERD include persistent heartburn (two or more times per week) and difficulty swallowing (due to acid irritation that has caused the esophagus to become inflamed). The severity of GERD depends on the degree of dysfunction of the esophageal sphincter as well as the type and amount of fluid brought up from the stomach.
Peptic Ulcers are characterized by sores (ulcers) in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine). No single cause of ulcers has been identified, but it is clear that ulcers are the result of an imbalance in digetive fluids in the stomach and/or duodenum. However, recent research suggests that most ulcers are caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). A person can have an ulcer for sometime without having any specific symptoms. When symptoms occur they can include: a burning pain in the middle of the upper stomach between meals or at night, bloating, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. Ulcers can heal on their own, but it's best to get a medical evaluation and to review treatment options with your medical provider. Some people believe they can self-medicate by drinking milk for temporary relief. While milk does coat the stomach lining and provide initial relief, it can make an ulcer worse by stimulating the stomach to produce more acid, which further attacks the ulcer.