How long does acid reflux last?

The length of time an acid reflux episode lasts and how often it occurs can vary. Know when to contact your doctor.

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is when there is the backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophagus and other areas such as the throat that the gastric acid is in contact with. This can cause symptoms such as heartburn, a hoarse voice and a sour taste in the mouth. The stomach acid can escape because the ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus before the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak, there is excess acid production or reduced gastric emptying. Acid reflux is typically worse after eating, bending over or lying down.

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How long can one reflux attack last?

Symptoms such as heartburn can last from minutes to several hours. Mild heartburn after eating acidic or spicy food usually goes away when the food has been digested. Symptoms can return some hours after they first appeared if you lie down or bend over. In pregnancy, an episode of heartburn may last longer than if you had a trigger food alone. The severity of the heartburn does not indicate if there is lasting damage or not. Damage usually comes from more chronic, recurring acid reflux.

How often can I get acid reflux? 

Heartburn is a very common condition with around 20% of Americans having it around once a week. Pregnant women are also susceptible. While occasional heartburn is not dangerous if the heartburn occurs more than twice a week, you have to take antacids daily or it is getting in the way of your life you should speak to a doctor in case you have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD which can cause damage to your body.  

Something doesn't feel right, shall I see my doctor?

Yes, absolutely. This applies to both chronic reflux and emergency situations.

If you suspect GERD please speak to your doctor to be treated. This is because if you have GERD, it can cause serious complications:

  • Laryngitis - Typically this takes 2 weeks to recover assuming no further irritation by stomach acid.
  • Esophagitis - With potent acid suppression this can take 2-8 weeks to heal.
  • Ulcers - These can potentially perforate if untreated.
  • Strictures - Chronic inflammation can lead to scar tissue that restricts digestive flow.
  • Swallowing problems- This can lead to difficulty eating and drinking and cause weight loss
  • Pre-cancerous changes to the esophageal lining - These may become cancerous.

If you have symptoms that make you suspect something more sinister is going on, such as a heart attack, go to the emergency department of a hospital:

  • The ‘heartburn’ is worse or unusual
  • Your chest pain is severe which could be with a squeezing, tightening or crushing quality
  • Other additional symptoms you may experience include:
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain that radiates to other areas of the upper body
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Other conditions may also need to be ruled out by a doctor. 

  • An alternative cluster of symptoms could be:
  • bloody or dark stools 
  • black/ coffee ground like vomit

You need to call 911 in this case as you may have had an ulcer such as a peptic ulcer bleed.

Summary 

Occasional reflux is unlikely to be a problem and can usually be treated with lifestyle changes or over the counter medications. However more chronic reflux can harm your body and cause serious complications. In the acute setting it is important to rule out other life-threatening conditions so do not hesitate to seek help.

 

References

  1. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/resource-centers/gastrointestinal/Reflux-Esophagitis-Sometimes-Healing-Takes-Time
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heartburn-and-acid-reflux/
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/146619

 

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