How Can I Determine if I Have Heartburn?
Is heartburn associated with any other illnesses?
Heartburn symptoms may be similar to the symptoms of other illnesses. It is very important to recognize which symptoms may suggest another illness so that appropriate medical treatment can occur.
If heartburn is severe, persistent, or does not respond to over-the-counter medications, it may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If left untreated, GERD can cause serious damage to the lining of the esophagus, including inflammation or ulcers. Long-term consequences of untreated GERD include narrowing of the esophagus, which can cause difficulty swallowing food or medications. Additionally, GERD can contribute to asthma, pneumonia, hoarseness, chronic cough, sore throat, and dental problems. People with GERD also have a higher risk of developing a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which results in severe destruction to the lining of the esophagus and may be linked to an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus.
Persistent or severe heartburn symptoms may also indicate a stomach ulcer. Although ulcers and heartburn have similar symptoms, ulcers are often caused by bacteria (H. pylori) or chronic use of certain medications, like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Heartburn pain that is relieved by eating, instead of caused by eating, may indicate that you have an ulcer.
Sometimes a heart attack may be mistaken for heartburn. Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack is very important in order to determine when urgent medical treatment should be sought. If any chest pain lasts for more than a few minutes and you have one or more of the warning signs of a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately. Possible warning signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain that can be described as pressure, tightness, fullness, dull, or crushing
- Pain occurring with activity or exertion
- Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw
- Pain that responds to nitroglycerin tablets
- Pain that is associated with an irregular pulse
- Cold sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness
When should I seek medical attention for my heartburn?
Seek medical attention if your heartburn occurs several times a week, returns immediately after your antacid wears off, returns soon after you take Prilosec OTC® for 14 consecutive days, or wakes you up at night. You may be developing complications that require more intensive treatment. Heartburn is common in pregnancy, but people who are pregnant should consult with a physician before selecting any medication to treat symptoms. Additionally, seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Unexplained chest pain that fells like pressure on your chest
- Chronic hoarseness
- Chronic cough
- A family history of peptic ulcer disease or GERD
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- Black, tarry stool
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain when swallowing
- Regurgitated blood or black material
- Pain that persists despite the use of medications