Doctors Want You to Stop Believing This Common Heartburn Myth

Frequent heartburn isn’t a normal part of life.

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt heartburn at least once in your life — whether you’ve realized it or not. It’s that burning feeling in your chest after a night of drinking or a late-night burrito. Here's the important question, though: Is frequent heartburn normal?

Is it normal to have heartburn often?

Heartburn is actually pain caused by stomach acid leaking up into your esophagus. This acid is strong and corrosive, and it normally helps you digest food. The lining of your stomach can handle this acid, but it can be painful when it leaks up into your esophagus. This leads to symptoms like irritation and burning in the chest area.

Occasional and mild heartburn may happen from time to time. You can generally treat it with over-the-counter antacids. There are also some good habits that can help prevent heartburn, such as eating smaller, more frequent meals, and not lying down right after eating.

However, if you’re feeling heartburn often, this is a more serious concern. It's a myth that heartburn is normal and just a part of life. Heartburn that happens often may signal an underlying problem.

What is GERD?

People who have acid reflux symptoms at least two to three times a week may have what’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This frequent acid reflux can cause other bothersome symptoms too, like nausea, bad breath, and trouble swallowing. Learn more about the difference between heartburn and GERD.

The consequences of untreated acid reflux don’t stop there. Repeated episodes of acid reflux can irritate the esophagus. This may increase the risk of problems such as:

  • A narrowing of the esophagus
  • Barrett's esophagus, which is when tissue similar to what lines your intestines starts to replace the tissue that lines your esophagus
  • Esophageal cancer, which is when cancer cells develop in the cells that line the esophagus

People are more likely to develop GERD if their lower esophageal sphincter has become weakened or relaxed. This is the valve that usually helps prevent stomach acid from moving backwards up the esophagus. This valve may be compromised if you are:

  • Overweight or have obesity
  • Pregnant
  • Smoking
  • Regularly exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Taking certain medicines

Some of these are concerns in their own right, and your doctor may be able to help you come up with a treatment plan. Treatment could help address the underlying problem as well as the frequent heartburn.