About 30 percent of adults experience occasional heartburn. Infrequent bouts of heartburn are probably not serious. If the incidence becomes more frequent, however, say more than twice a week, this may be a cause for concern. Frequent bouts of reflux causes the esophageal lining to become inflamed or eroded, a condition known as esophagitis. Aside from the lingering pain it will cause, this condition might narrow the esophageal opening, causing bleeding or difficulty in swallowing. In extreme cases where there is severe esophageal damage, blood may be detected in the stool or vomit. Acid reflux, when it reaches the mouth, may also trigger asthma, sore throat, or hoarseness of voice and even tooth abrasion or damage. Because of difficulty in digestive functions in these cases, one may become dehydrated or lose weight in the process.
Aside from esophagitis, frequent heartburn may also be symptoms of the following conditions:
● Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). In this condition, the cardiac sphincter’s tightness or integrity has already been compromised, causing stomach acid or digested food to back up each time a person eats.
● Gastritis. The stomach lining is inflamed because of, among others, infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria or the constant use of painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen. A person who has gastritis experiences upper abdominal pain, which may be similar to heartburn.
● Peptic ulcer is characterized by a sore in the lining of the stomach or duodenum. It may also develop just above the stomach (i.e. in the esophagus). It develops in the same way as gastritis. Stress and spicy food do not cause but can aggravate it. It is characterized by a dull or burning pain in the stomach, breastbone or belly button, much like heartburn.
● Hiatal hernia. A condition in which part of the stomach is pushed up through the diaphragm (muscular boundary between the abdomen and the chest) into the chest and forces up the contents of the stomach as well.