Signs Your Acid Reflux Needs To Be Checked By Your Doctor

Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disorder or GERD (via the Mayo Clinic), can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including heartburn, regurgitation, and dyspepsia — which is just a fancy way to say stomach discomfort (via Medscape). Although GERD isn't usually life-threatening, its symptoms can lead to permanent damage of the esophagus or cancer (via Teens Health).

Don't get too worked up — GERD is actually pretty common. According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, GERD affects one in five or more people in the U.S. Individuals who are older than 40, overweight, or who are pregnant may be more at risk. Smoking or taking certain medications, such as antibiotics, iron supplements, or pain relievers, among other medications (via the Mayo Clinic), may also cause acid reflux (via the Cleveland Clinic).

When to see a doctor

If you're having difficulty swallowing or feel pain when swallowing, are experiencing severe heartburn, a chronic cough, or are vomiting blood or black material, you should contact your doctor (via WebMD). If left untreated, GERD may lead to esophagitis, esophageal ulcers, esophageal stricture, aspiration pneumonia, Barrett's esophagus, which develops in ten to fifteen percent of people with GERD (via National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), or esophageal cancer.

To prevent symptom onset, the Cleveland Clinic recommends eating small, frequent meals and reducing the amount of butter, salad dressings, oils, gravy, or fatty meats in your diet. Sitting upright while eating or standing for 45 to 60 minutes following a big meal may help, as well. You should also avoid trigger foods, including fried, spicy, and fatty foods (via Harvard Health Publishing). "Acid reflux is not always a condition of excess stomach acid production," Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, tells Insider"Sometimes common foods are the culprit and other times it is additives or other ingredients. It is important to keep a food/symptom record to look for any correlations between the consumption of any particular food or chemical and a symptom."