It’s a common issue for people across the country; burning pain in the chest, bloating, nausea, and a bitter taste in the mouth. These are symptoms of heartburn, which more than 60 million Americans experience at least once a month.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, heartburn may even be more common than it was before.
“There is a huge rush to get in to be seen by a doctor, so I think a lot of patient population is just sitting and waiting and trying to manage it at home, and when we were open, they were like 'we need to see them right now,' " said Dr. Atul Maini, a St. Joseph's hospital physician.
Maini described two types of reflux.
“There’s physiological reflux. We train the patients to know. There will be times in your life that you’ll be extremely stressed; you feel like impending doom. You feel like you’re going to collapse. You feel like you’re having a panic attack. That describes that," Maini said of the first type. "There’s a physiological effect to acid coming back up in your esophagus."
That type of reflux can be caused by the stress felt during the pandemic. For that, Dr. Maini has some tips and tricks for handling it: stress control, exercise, and cutting back on alcohol consumption, especially later in the day.
Pathological reflux, though, is more concerning.
“Pathological heartburn, where the real problem starts is basically a failure of that valve ... at the junction of the esophagus, the food pipe and the stomach," Maini said.
If you, like 15 million other Americans, are dealing with heartburn symptoms every day, Dr. Maini says you should call your doctor.
“If you are 20 years old or 70 years old, if you have a large hernia in your diaphragm, it’s not going to fix by itself," the doctor said. "If you have the sphincter problems, and the sphincter is not working and we find that out, it is not going to fix by itself. For those, definitely there are indications for surgery. These things are serious stuff."
As for over-the-counter options, Dr. Maini says that proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec and Prevacid are OK to take to control heartburn symptoms, but for no more than three months.