Talking to Your Doctor About Your Heartburn

Courtesy Blend Images (Getty Images)

Almost everyone has suffered from heartburn at least once. Maybe it has been after a spicy meal or overindulgence at a family get together. Millions of people have an episode of heartburn at least once a month. In these cases, many pop a couple antacids and they feel fine.

There are other people who suffer from frequent heartburn. This is heartburn that occurs two or more times a week. For them, this could be a sign of something more than "just heartburn." It could be a symptom of a more serious disorder, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or a hiatal hernia.

When Should You See Your Doctor?

When heartburn occurs frequently or becomes severe, you should consult your doctor.

Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Your heartburn persists or becomes more severe.
  • Your heartburn isn't relieved by medication.
  • Your heartburn interferes with your ability to fall asleep or it wakes you at night.
  • Your discomfort interferes with your lifestyle or daily activities.
  • You have difficulty swallowing or have pain when swallowing.
  • You have the sensation of food caught in your chest or throat.
  • Your heartburn is causing you to vomit.
  • You vomit blood or have black stools (from digested blood).
  • You have excessive saliva.
  • You've experienced a drastic weight loss.
  • You have persistent hoarseness or sore throat.
  • You have episodes of choking, coughing or wheezing.

Prepare for Your Appointment

Once you have decided to see your doctor about your chronic heartburn, you will want to get the most out of your appointment.

To accomplish that, it is helpful to prepare ahead of time for your appointment.

Do your own research. Try to learn more about heartburn before your doctor's visit. This can be done by either searching for information on the Internet, or by going to your local library and reading books on this topic.

When doing this research, it is important to not jump to conclusions about what medical condition you may have. Doing research should be only so you will better understand whatever diagnosis your doctor gives you. You will also be able to ask better questions. Only your doctor can give you his or her professional opinion, and the correct diagnosis. You will, however, be better prepared by already knowing something about the condition.

Write down your questions. Before your visit, write down any questions you can think of. This will help you remember what you need to ask, but it will also enable you to ask your questions at the beginning of your visit. While doctors are willing to answer questions toward the end of a visit, there may not be adequate time to discuss all your concerns or answer all your questions if you wait until the end of the appointment to mention them.

Know when your heartburn occurs. Tell your doctor when your heartburn occurs. Does your heartburn occur:

  • during day
  • while sleeping
  • after exercise
  • after meals
  • when bending over

Maybe your heartburn only occurs when eating or only while you're trying to sleep at night. If, however, your heartburn occurs at different times during the day or after a variety of events (e.g. after breakfast one day, but lunch three other days, with a couple nighttime heartburn occurrences thrown in), you will probably want to write this information down.

For approximately one week before your doctor's visit (two would be better, if possible), write down when your heartburn occurs. This will help your doctor see how often your heartburn occurs. You can write this information down in any form you wish, or you can use this sample heartburn record as a guide.

Tell your doctor how your symptoms affect your daily routine. Your doctor will want to know what sort of impact your heartburn has on your daily life. Some people worry about it, and are significantly affected by their heartburn, while other people aren't affected much at all. Your doctor will want to know this:

  • I am always worried about it
  • I have trouble sleeping at night
  • I can't concentrate at work
  • I can't enjoy socializing with my friends
  • I'm not affected at all

Tell your doctor what heartburn remedies you take. Let your doctor know if you have taken antacids or other heartburn remedies (e.g. "home" remedies) you have taken for your heartburn.

Tell your doctor about any other medications you take. It is very important that you notify your doctor of what other medications you take, and what conditions they are prescribed for. You doctor will need this information to avoid any conflict between medications.

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant. Pregnancy may change what your doctor decides is the best course of treatment for you.

Bring a notebook. Take a notebook with you to your doctor's visit, and write down what your doctor says. You can then read what you’ve written aloud so your doctor can clarify his or her instructions to you. Your notes will also help ensure you don't forget anything your doctor told you.


Carol Ann Rinzler; Ken DeVault, MD, First. Heartburn & Reflux For Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004. 163-176. Print.

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

Continue Reading