Category Archives: Heartburn and GERD

Heartburn and age: It really does get worse

Image result for heartburnGetting older has its perks, like learning life’s lessons, knowing what you want (and how to get it), and feeling comfortable in your own skin. That is, unless you suffer from heartburn.

Studies have shown the irritating truth that this esophageal irritation gets more intense as you age.

“First, the sphincter on top of your stomach, which opens to allow things you swallow to go into your stomach, tends to relax a bit more with time,” says Self.

That’s a medical way to say that even your internal muscles can’t fight Father Time. When that flap doesn’t open or close as quickly, stomach acid can creep back up and cause your esophagus to burn.

Another cause for more heartburn as you age is that your stomach doesn’t digest your food as quickly. And when your food sticks around longer, there are more chances for problems. Couple that with a slight weight gain that a lot of folks experience later in life, and your stomach acid has the perfect storm for irritating your esophagus.

Most folks experience heartburn from all the usual culprits: Fatty foods, sugar, peppermint, booze (basically anything fun). If that’s the case for you, limiting your intake along with using an over-the-counter heartburn med should probably take care of the problem.

However, if you have more severe problem that happens more frequently or doesn’t have a food trigger, you should definitely let your doctor know. With frequent heartburn comes a higher risk for esophageal cancer because of the acid wearing away at your throat. A stronger medication or more stringent course of action might be necessary, but your doctor can help you figure out what you should do.

“Heartburn is one of many possible symptoms of GERD. GERD means reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus,” says our very own Dr. Anezi Bakken.

She walked us through the symptoms and risks associated with heart burn the last time we sat down with her. She also told us how there comes a point when your heartburn could be something more serious. GERD typically shows more severe symptoms, such as nausea, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and even a cough. “Just” heartburn can turn into a more severe condition.

What else can you do?

Stop smoking, lose weight and drink lots of water – pretty much the standard prescription for getting any condition under control.

You can also use some food-tracking apps to monitor which foods are the worst for your gut. And gum and baking soda are a couple of home remedies that work for some people.

Talk to your doctor regarding any stomach discomfort to keep things in check and to avoid a more serious condition from developing.


Three simple moves to improve digestion

We all know that exercise helps with a lot of things: circulation, weight management, mood. But exercise also helps with digestion.

According to WebMD, exercise “helps to stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles. Intestinal muscles that contract efficiently help move stools out quickly.” So when you move, your guts move, which helps keep everything regular.

But since it’s not always easy to get moving, we came up with three simple moves you can do just about anywhere that’ll still have a positive impact on your tummy.


nadi-shodhana-how-to-practice-alternate-nostril-breathingIt sounds simple, but breathing with intent can make a big difference in your digestive health. Take a few moments to sit up straight, and breathe slowly in and out, all the way to the top of your breath.

“Studies have…shown that breathing exercises that strengthen the diaphragm muscles may prevent reflux,” says gastroenterologist Ian Harnik, MD, to Everyday Health.

You can work your breathing into your regular schedule. If you set an alarm throughout the day to drink water or go for a walk, set aside two or three minutes for deep breathing. Or after you finish your lunch, take five deep breaths before heading back to work.

Spinal Twist

yoga_reclining_spinal_twist-20110214-214137This classic yoga pose is really easy on your joints while being great for your gut. And, you do it while laying down (we love that kind of exercise!).

You put your knees to one side while turning your head the opposite way. That twists and stretches your intestines, which can help get things moving. explains:

Lie down, hug your knees and inhale. As you exhale, drop your knees to the left, using your left hand to push them down gently. Then, turn your head and stretch your arm out to the right. Stay for five to ten breaths. Inhale, and return your hands and knees to center. Repeat on the other side.

Take a Walk

550063581f2f5-office-workout-walking-s3One of the best ways to help your food digest is to go for a walk after you eat. Nothing crazy or strenuous, just ten to 20 minutes of moving can keep your meal moving the way it should. A walk after your meal can also help improve your blood sugar.

“Researchers say that a post-meal stroll helps clear glucose from the bloodstream in part because more of it is taken up by the muscles,” says the New York Times.

Good digestion and lower blood sugar sounds like a win-win to us.


Dr. John Weber exclusive: Tobacco and digestion on World No Tobacco Day

Dr. John Weber talks to us about digestive issues and tobacco use.Today marks World No Tobacco Day, a worldwide initiative to eliminate tobacco use. Since there are so many connections between tobacco use and chronic digestive issues, we wanted to get an expert opinion.

Dr. John Weber, MD, at Troy Gastroenterology, sat down to give us some insight into how tobacco negatively affects your digestive system.

Tobacco and Gastro Risks

“Tobacco and smoking have significant effects throughout the gastrointestinal tract,” says Dr. Weber. Heartburn, GERD, peptic ulcers and other issues can either be caused by or made worse from tobacco use.

And the negative effects of tobacco don’t stop with common digestive issues.

“Patients who smoke also have a higher risk of developing Crohn’s disease,” says Dr. Weber. “And smokers with Crohn’s have more severe symptoms and complications from their disease.”

Tobacco and Colon Cancer

What’s even worse about the relationship between tobacco use and digestive problems, is that it’s linked to an increased risk of cancer.

“Smoking can contribute to increased risk of cancer throughout the GI tract,” says Dr. Weber. “Focusing on colon cancer, cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing pre-cancerous adenomatous and polyps.”

The increased risk of cancer isn’t the only problem.

“The risk of dying from colon cancer is also increased among smokers,” says Dr. Weber.

You’re not just more likely to get colon cancer if you smoke, but you’re less likely to make it through.

Tobacco and You

There are always things you can do to improve your health and prevent disease. Even though there are exceptions.

“Many diseases that people acquire are beyond their control,” says Dr. Weber. “The risk of developing certain diseases, however, can be decreased by lifestyle choices including diet, exercise and nutrition.”

Treatment and prevention of certain digestive issues are almost always easier when tobacco is out of the picture.

“Many GI problems that I see on a daily basis could be more easily treated or prevented if patients stopped smoking,” says Dr. Weber.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, Dr. Weber says that educating folks on the dangers and risks of tobacco use would potentially help lead to more quitting.

“I think if patients understood the true financial and health costs associated with their tobacco use,” says Dr. Weber, “then they might be willing to quit – or, even better, not start smoking.”

The doctors at Troy Gastroenterology want all of their patients to stop smoking. They can help you get started if you’re not sure where to go.

As Dr. Weber says: “It’s not easy, but there are now many successful strategies available to help patients quit smoking.”


Three most helpful quotes from the docs at Troy Gastro

Our doctors have had some good advice over the years so we thought we'd take a walk down memory lane.

Our doctors have had some good advice over the years so we thought we’d take a walk down memory lane.

The doctors here at Troy Gastroenterology know their stuff. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to sit down with many of them to pick their brains and try to learn from them. We thought we’d look back at the most helpful, interesting and unique things our docs have said.

1 – “Although there has been no association between nuts, corn and popcorn or seeds…in my 20+ years I have had scores of patients have a diverticulitis attack triggered by consumption of these items in large quantities.”

In our blog about diverticulitis, Dr. Sante Bologna explained how the disorder can be misunderstood. He went on to tell us how regularly eating fibrous foods can help keep things moving through your digestive tract.

2 – “Probiotics keep the harmful bacteria in check and prevent them from damaging your colon. Our bodies need bacteria to survive, but it needs to be the right kind. Too much bad bacteria without the good stuff to keep it in line can lead to all sorts of digestive problems.”

When we talked to Dr. M. Emin Donat two years ago, he told us that lots of people don’t know that our guts need bacteria to function properly. And, probiotics feed off of prebiotics to keep the healthy bacteria prominent.

3 – “Heartburn is one of many possible symptoms of GERD. GERD means reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.”

Dr. Anezi Bakken walked us through the symptoms and risks associated with heart burn the last time we sat down with her. She also told us how there comes a point when your heartburn could be something more serious. GERD typically shows more severe symptoms, such as nausea, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and even a cough. “Just” heartburn can turn into a more severe condition.

Thanks to the doctors at Troy Gastro for their commitment to educating our patients!


The fastest-growing cancer in the country: Esophageal

Esophageal Cancer Awareness month is April each year.

ECA is the fastest-growing cancer in the U.S.

Cases of esophageal cancer are growing rapidly in the U.S. The disease can be easily disregarded as something less serious, since the risk factors and symptoms are so common.

Risk factors and symptoms

Dr. Anezi Bakken, MD MS in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology, says that white men over 50 who drink, smoke or are overweight are at the highest risk. Chronic heartburn also increases the risk, since the acid produced can lead to erosion of your esophageal tissue.

The symptoms are easy to shrug off. Regular burping or belching, hoarseness, indigestion, chest pain, sore throat and even throat clearing can all be indicators of esophageal cancer.

People with GERD could actually end up with Barrett’s esophagus – a more serious condition that can eventually lead to esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the lower esophagus has been damaged by repeated exposure to stomach acid.

If you’re chronically on PPIs for GERD, you may be at a higher risk.


Heartburn and GERD Q&A: When it might be more than discomfort

Heartburn is a super common digestive discomfort that millions of Americans suffer from regularly. Of those who suffer, even more have severe acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). And for some reason, the number of sufferers and the frequency are on the rise – and scientists don’t know why.

Some speculate that the increase in stress, obesity and processed foods that Americans


Heartburn is a very common ailment among American adults. But when should you worry?

have taken on in the past couple decades might be the biggest offenders.

So when should you worry? Dr. Anezi Bakken answered some of the more common questions to try to figure out what the deal is with heartburn and what you can do about it.

What’s the difference between heartburn and GERD?

“Heartburn is one of many possible symptoms of GERD,” says Dr. Bakken. “GERD means reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.” So heartburn isn’t always the end result but might be an indication that something more serious is going on.

And GERD usually comes with more than just a fiery feeling in your chest and throat: “It can also cause…burping, chest pain, nausea, difficulty swallowing, cough and sore throat,” says Dr. Bakken.

What are some of the causes?

As it turns out, there are a bunch of factors that can contribute to heartburn. Some food-related causes could be “caffeine, spicy or rich foods, overeating, alcohol, tomato sauces or citrus,” explains Dr. Bakken.

Other triggers are smoking, lack of sleep, stress and even over-the-counter headache medicine.

Beyond that, a hiatal hernia might be the culprit. This type of hernia causes part of your stomach to push against your diaphragm, giving food and acid the chance to crawl back up your esophagus.

I have heartburn almost every day. Should I be worried?

“If you have heartburn every day you should seek medical care from a physician to identify the cause,” says Dr. Bakken. Occasional heartburn from your trigger foods is one thing, but “there is an increased risk  for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer in patients with chronic and persistent GERD,” says Dr. Bakken.

What are some things I can do to prevent heartburn? Do over-the-counter products really work?

According to Dr. Bakken, some over-the-counter antacids “can help with very mild and occasional symptoms but stronger medications are often needed” for more frequent or intense warning signs.

To prevent or help reduce heartburn, you can try not eating within hours of laying down, losing weight and avoiding your trigger foods. You could keep a food journal to help narrow down the culprits. Then when you have heartburn, you can take a look at what might be irritating your stomach and (try to) avoid it. Here’s a great list of the best apps for food journaling. Even though most of these are meant for weight loss, they can come in handy for tracking heartburn symptoms too.

A good home remedy is baking soda. Its alkaline makeup neutralizes stomach acid and helps tame heartburn. Mix half a teaspoon in a glass of water and drink it down. If you have issues with sodium, you should check with your doctor first.

Another home remedy is gum. When you chew gum, you mouth generates saliva that keeps stomach acid moving along.

The bottom line is to keep an eye on your symptoms. If they get worse or more frequent, you should talk to your doctor.