Symptoms Never to Ignore With Acid Reflux

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid goes back up into the esophagus. That acid can cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion, which is a painful burning sensation in the chest. Occasional acid reflux after eating a big meal or spicy food isn’t usually a cause for concern, and it can usually be treated with over-the-counter antacids and lifestyle changes, such as losing excess weight. However, there are some acid reflux symptoms that you should never ignore because they could indicate a more serious problem. If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

  • 1
    Chest pain
    male with chest pain

    Although the discomfort is called heartburn, it doesn’t have anything to do with your heart. Many people with acid reflux have pain in their chest due to stomach acid going back up into the esophagus, which runs through the chest cavity behind the heart. But chest pain is a symptom you should never dismiss. It can indicate another potentially serious problem, such as an underlying heart condition or even a heart attack. If you also experience pain in the arms or jaw, difficulty breathing, dizziness or sweating, call 911 because you may be having a heart attack.

  • 2
    Frequent heartburn
    holding oral tablets

    If you experience heartburn two or more times per week and it doesn’t get better with over-the-counter antacids or dietary changes, don’t just write it off. Frequent heartburn is often a symptom of a chronic problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which needs a doctor’s care. Without treatment, GERD can result in more serious problems in the esophagus and respiratory system. In some cases, it can lead to esophageal cancer if it continues untreated.

  • 3
    Difficulty swallowing
    Teacher at classroom with hand to throat as she swallows a cup of water

    Acid reflux can also occur without the symptom of heartburn. Trouble swallowing, choking or feeling like there’s something stuck in your throat is called dysphagia, which is another symptom of GERD. These problems should never be ignored. Dysphagia can have many causes, but when it’s a result of GERD, it’s often due to stomach acid scarring the lower esophagus. This can lead to spasms and narrowing of the esophagus. If you have symptoms of dysphagia, talk with your doctor about testing and diagnosis.

  • 4
    Regurgitating food or sour liquid
    young woman with sore throat, squeezing eyes shut with painful swallowing

    People with GERD may have problems with undigested food regurgitating back into the mouth in addition to stomach acid. If this occurs regularly, it can damage the esophagus, and in some people, it can develop into Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which the cells lining the lower esophagus begin to change. These changes increase the person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer. If you’ve been dealing with acid reflux and regurgitation for several years, talk with your doctor about your risk of Barrett's esophagus.

  • 5
    Man getting sick in bathroom

    If you have acid reflux and begin vomiting regularly, never ignore this sign of a problem, particularly if it’s very forceful, if it contains blood, or if you have trouble breathing afterward. Vomit that looks like coffee grounds means that blood has been in your stomach for several hours. If the vomit looks like that, or if it appears greenish-yellow, it’s a warning sign you need to call your doctor right away. Your doctor may want to do an endoscopy to see whether you’re bleeding in your esophagus, stomach or elsewhere.

  • 6
    Sore throat or chronic cough

    If you have acid reflux, it may come with symptoms of a sore throat or dry cough. Acid reflux at night while you’re lying down may cause you to wake up with a sore throat or feeling hoarse the next morning. While these symptoms may not seem severe or bothersome enough to call a doctor, you still shouldn’t ignore them. They can be signs of GERD, which needs treatment to prevent acid reflux complications.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 1
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