DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Until recently I’d never experienced heartburn, but now I seem to have it at least twice a week. I would like to avoid taking over-the-counter medications. Is it possible to prevent heartburn by avoiding certain foods?
ANSWER: Heartburn, or acid reflux, happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. It is a common problem. About 40 percent of people in the United States have some symptoms of heartburn, which is usually described as a burning pain in the chest after eating.
Treatment of heartburn depends on two issues. First, how much the symptoms bother you, and second, whether these symptoms signal an underlying esophageal injury that is happening because of the reflux. These can be two different issues, as the intensity of heartburn does not necessarily correspond to esophageal injury. In fact, people with severe esophageal injuries — such as esophagitis, where tissue in the esophagus becomes inflamed, or Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition — often have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.