This ailment can present in more ways than just a burning in your chest.
pregnant woman taking antacid medication
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If you regularly experience the tell-tale signs of acid reflux—which normally include a burning sensation and general indigestion—you likely head to your medicine cabinet in search of your go-to remedy. But those aren't the only two symptoms of this ailment—acid reflux can actually present in a myriad of ways. Dr. Shilpa Ravella, a gastroenterologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, says there's more to it than that slow burn. Ahead, she explains the unusual reflux symptoms that you may be missing.

First things first: What is acid reflux?

Before you can understand its signs, it's important to learn exactly what acid reflux is, as well as how it impacts your body. Also known as heartburn, this ailment occurs when acid rises from your stomach and into your "food pipe." There are several symptoms of reflux—bloating, burping, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), hiccups, and nausea to name a few—but according to Dr. Ravella, the most common signs are the burning sensation and regurgitation (or, the wet, fiery feeling you sometimes get in the back of your throat).

Identify the less common symptoms.

Of course, you are less likely to suspect that reflux is at the root of your discomfort if your symptoms vary from the ones most frequently associated with the condition. "Patients can also get chest pain (make sure to get worked up by a cardiologist first!), water brash (a sour taste in your mouth), a globus sensation (the feeling of having a lump in your throat), and a chronic cough, hoarseness, or wheezing," explains Dr. Ravella.

Be selective when taking antacids.

An over-the-counter antacid may be just what the doctor ordered in milder cases, but Dr. Ravella says to check whichever treatment you choose for Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). Excessive use of PPIs can be tied to vitamin deficiencies, infections, bone fractures, and possible kidney disease with long-term use. In addition to these treatments, she suggests taking lifestyle anti-reflux measures, like eliminating tobacco, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, and fatty foods and focusing on losing weight and eating smaller, more frequent meals.

Just as important? Make sure to time your meals so that you are not filling your stomach right before bed. "Don't eat at least two hours before bedtime and stay upright at least 30 minutes after meals," she says.

Not feeling better? See your doctor.

As with anything health-related, if you're experiencing acid reflux, it is better to err on the side of caution and visit your doctor. Especially, Dr. Ravella says, if dietary and lifestyle changes are not alleviating the symptoms—or if you have severe or atypical symptoms (like that chest pain or cough). "If you have rare, alarming symptoms (like blood in the stool, weight loss, etc.), that may point to another serious diagnosis."

Also, suffering from what seem to be symptoms of acid reflux, doesn't actually mean you have it: "Acid reflux can mimic chest pain due to heart disease, peptic ulcer disease, and esophageal stricture," notes Dr. Ravella. So, any discomfort that feels extreme, does not respond to over-the-counter treatments, or is ongoing should be checked out by your doctor.


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