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Can Heartburn Become Deadly? The Answer May Surprise You

is heartburn dangerous

Do you suffer from heartburn? What is your plan?

Do you pop a couple of OTC heartburn pills before you indulge in spicy food? Or do you regularly see a gastrointestinal (GI) doctor and monitor your heartburn symptoms?

If you aren’t doing the second option, it’s recommended that you do. Heartburn may seem like a minor inconvenience, but for some patients, it can be deadly.

If acid reflux lingers in your throat for a long period of time, you can get various ailments such as ulcers and erosion on the esophageal lining. Diseases and even cancer can also occur.

So, is heartburn dangerous? Continue reading and know the deadly effects of heartburn.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest. No, your heart isn’t “burning.”

Heartburn is actually caused by stomach acids backing up into your esophagus, or your food pipe. This signals a digestive issue.

This sensation occurs after you eat specific types of food, such as tomato-based foods or spicy foods. Heartburn is a minor inconvenience for most but can be a symptom of a severe ailment for others.

Heartburn is extremely common, which is why many people are able to take OTC medications to calm their heartburn symptoms. Others just avoid certain foods to reduce their heartburn symptoms.

But some experience heartburn frequently. Others experience additional symptoms, such as shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing.

If heartburn occurs daily and isn’t triggered by eating a certain food or if avoiding these foods doesn’t help, then you need to see a doctor.

What Foods and Drinks Cause Heartburn

For most, heartburn isn’t dangerous. For these patients, heartburn is caused by digestive issues. This gets triggered by certain foods. Common examples include:

  • Alcohol
  • Acidic beverages and food (coffee, oranges, etc.)
  • Fried foods
  • Spicy foods and peppers
  • Tomato-based foods (tomatoes, ketchup, and any type of red sauce such as marinara sauce)

Not all heartburn patients have the same food irritations. Some can eat spicy food fine but can’t eat a tomato. It’s important that you identify your heartburn triggers and avoid those foods.

Other Symptoms

Heartburn may be accompanied by other symptoms. These symptoms could signal another severe ailment. These symptoms include:

  • Constant sour taste
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

If you feel heartburn and experience these symptoms with it, visit a GI doctor.

Is Heartburn Dangerous?

What if you switch your diet, start taking OTC medications, and you still have severe issues with heartburn? Heartburn could turn deadly. This means too many stomach acids are rising in your esophagus, which can cause a myriad of issues.

These include:


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD, is one of the most common reasons you experience heartburn.

This is the consistent rise of stomach acids into the lower ring of the esophagus, called the LES. This is a ring of muscle between your esophagus and your stomach.

GERD sounds dangerous but is very common.

With minor diet changes and medications, GERD usually won’t turn serious. But you still must see a doctor if you have GERD. A doctor will monitor your GERD and will prescribe the necessary medications needed to treat it.

Barrett’s Disease

If your heartburn continues without treatment, you could develop Barrett’s Disease or Barrett’s esophagus.

This is the alteration of esophageal tissues to help accommodate the number of stomach acids in your esophagus.

As your cells try to heal your esophagus, they become damaged in the process. This will decrease cell function during the healing.

Since heartburn is easily treatable, many patients with GERD won’t develop Barrett’s esophagus. But if you let GERD persist, you’re at risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus.

If you let heartburn persist for more than five years, your condition should be overlooked by a GI doctor. This will ensure no further damage happens to your esophagus.


The most serious issue that could stem from heartburn is cancer, specifically esophageal cancer. This is when heartburn can become dangerous and deadly.

A tumor will grow in your esophagus, causing the formation of cancer cells. Your heartburn will increase, followed by other symptoms such as a severe sore throat, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, and vomiting.

If the tumor is detected early, you can prevent the spread of cancerous cells to the rest of your body. In some cases, the cancer is at a higher stage and can’t be treated.

How Are These Ailments Diagnosed?

When you visit a GI doctor, they’ll perform a physical and will ask you some questions. These questions will determine which diagnosis method they’ll take. Here are some examples:

  • Endoscopy
  • Upper GI Series
  • Ambulatory pH testing

An endoscopy will allow your doctor to see your esophagus and diagnose severe diseases or order an x-ray for further testing. For minor issues, your GI doctor will test the acidity in your throat.

How to Prevent Deadly Heartburn

Now that you know heartburn can become deadly, it’s time to start preventing heartburn. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Over the counter (OTC) medications: Most patients will only need to take OTC medications. These include chewables such as Tums or pills such as Rolaids. This reduces the acidity in your throat and will prevent the heartburn sensation.

Diet changes: Discover from triggers your heartburn and avoid those foods.

Prescription medications: In severe cases, your doctor will have to prescribe medications and pharmaceuticals. This usually happens when you’ve been diagnosed with GERD. These medications are stronger than the medications available over the counter.

Get an endoscopy: To check your esophageal lining for signs of erosion, your GI doctor may require an endoscopy. This is when a camera is administered down your throat and your doctor looks for signs of Barrett’s esophagus and cancer.

Don’t Let Heartburn Persist

Is heartburn dangerous? For most, it isn’t.

Heartburn occurs when you have difficulty digesting certain foods. But conditions such as GERD cause stomach acids to rise in the esophagus. If GERD is left untreated, it could cause Barrett’s esophagus and even cancer.

If a loved one has esophageal cancer, contact us. We provide loving care during this difficult time and will offer you some options.