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When Does Heartburn Become a Cause for Concern?

When Does Heartburn Become a Cause for Concern?

Have you ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest after eating a meal – especially a heavy, spicy meal eaten just before bedtime? If so, you’re not alone. Most people experience heartburn on occasion, which generally is not a cause for great concern. Frequent heartburn that occurs two or more times a week, however, may be a symptom of a more serious condition.

Acid reflux happens when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus – the “food pipe” that leads from the throat to the stomach. The acid flows upward because the valve between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t work properly.

”Some acid reflux is normal,” says Zaid Imam, MD, a gastroenterologist with Washington Township Medical Foundation (WTMF). “Heartburn becomes a concern, however, when it is chronic and damages the esophagus. Anyone with frequent heartburn should see a physician to see if testing for gastroesophageal reflux disease, called GERD, is indicated.”

In addition to heartburn and the possible regurgitation of stomach contents up into the throat, GERD also can cause more unusual symptoms such as coughing (especially at night), sore throat, hoarseness and even chest pain. A potentially serious GERD complication is Barrett’s esophagus, in which the cells in the lining of the esophagus change their structure to compensate for the acid.

To promote greater awareness of GERD’s potential complications and current treatment options, Washington Hospital will offer a free seminar featuring Dr. Imam on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The seminar, “When Heartburn Is Acid Reflux,” will be presented on both Facebook and YouTube, beginning at 1 p.m.

“If left untreated, GERD can lead to more serious complications such as scarring or narrowing of the esophagus, which make it difficult to eat and swallow,” says Dr. Imam. “Additionally, Barrett’s esophagus can continue to progress, sometimes becoming precancerous or perhaps even cancerous.”

In many cases, physicians recommend treating uncomplicated GERD by making a few simple lifestyle changes, such as diet modification and weight loss. In addition, some people may need medications to help control GERD. During the seminar, Dr. Imam will discuss potentially beneficial lifestyle changes as well as various medications for GERD and their potential side effects.

“For people with more complicated, persistent cases of GERD, other treatment options might be required, including various surgical procedures,” Dr. Imam adds. “If people have questions about those alternative treatments, we can discuss those at the seminar, too.”

Join the Seminar

To view the Sept. 12 seminar on Facebook, sign in to your account and then go to Watching from YouTube does not require an account. Simply go to

People attending the seminar via Facebook will be able to ask questions directly during the seminar. Those watching on Facebook or YouTube may submit questions in advance to If you miss the live event, it will be archived and available for viewing on Washington Hospital’s YouTube channel.