Heartburn or Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

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Heartburn, also known as gastric reflux or indigestion, happens after you eat and food is in your stomach. In the stomach, food is broken down by acids. Usually these acids stay in your stomach because a valve blocks the acids from going up the esophagus. Sometimes this valve doesn't work properly because the muscle weakens. When this happens, gastric acids can travel up the esophagus and cause a burning sensation -- this is heartburn. When these acids travel up into the mouth and then down into the lungs, they can cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms of heartburn and GERD include:

  • irritating burning sensation in the chest or throat
  • middle back pain
  • coughing spells
  • bitter, acidic taste in the mouth
  • an increase in the burning sensation while lying down

Breast cancer treatments that can cause heartburn and GERD are:

Bisphosphonates, medicines that are used to protect bones during breast cancer treatment, also may cause heartburn and GERD.

Heartburn also can be caused by some pain medications you may be taking during breast cancer treatment, including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil).

Managing heartburn and GERD

Symptoms of heartburn and GERD can be the same as some symptoms of serious medical conditions such as a heart attack, stomach ulcer, and gall bladder and pancreatic problems. Talk to your doctor right away if you’re heartburn or GERG symptoms.

To reduce your risk of heartburn and GERD, you also can:

  • Avoid highly acidic and caffeinated foods and drinks such as citrus fruits, fatty and fried foods, garlic, onions, mint, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, carbonated drinks, and vinegar.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight can increase the risk of heartburn.
  • Limit alcohol use. Alcohol can upset your stomach and cause heartburn.
  • Reduce stress through exercise, meditation, or massage.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Prop up your head while sleeping. Sleep with your head on two or more pillows. Or, try putting wooden blocks under the two feet of the bed closest to the headboard to slant your bed down. This will help keep the gastric acids from traveling up the esophagus.
  • Don’t wear tight clothes or belts. Looser clothing can help alleviate some heartburn symptoms.
  • Avoid unnecessary bending. Bending at the waist can send stomach acids into the esophagus.
  • Slowly eat small amounts of food, to better let your stomach digest.
  • Don’t lie down after a meal. And don’t eat 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter medications that can help your heartburn.

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