Heartburn is a burning or hot sensation underneath the breast bone. Some patients state that they experience pain in the very pit of their stomachs while other patients describe that the discomfort continues up under the breast bone and sometimes into the throat. If the stomach contents reflux up into the throat, a patient may complain of an increased flow of saliva, a salty taste, or a sour or acid material in the back of his throat. Some patients awaken choking at night. The esophagus is not designed to tolerate this acid, and as a result the acid burns the lining of the esophagus. Many Americans experience minor degrees of heartburn. However, if it is a regular occurrence, the continual flow of acid up into the esophagus can cause ulceration of the esophagus. This leads to scarring at the bottom of the esophagus resulting in a stricture (narrowing). A stricture may prevent the passage of solid food especially bread or meat.
View Dr. Gopal’s educational interview on heartburn below:
In some patients, long term heartburn can lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. This is a condition in which the mucosa, or the cells that line the esophagus, change in structure, and in a minority of patients, who develop Barrett’s, there is an increased risk of the potential of the development of esophageal cancer. Patients with Barrett’s require follow-up on a regular basis to reassess the area with biopsies. In patients which begin to develop worrisome changes in the cell structure, there are new procedures which can get rid of these changes. One of these, employed at the clinic, is known as HALO. This is a form of thermal ablative therapy, which early clinical data suggests may have a very positive outcome with respect to patients who develop Barrett’s.