The heart, it burns us
September 8, 2011 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Do my symptoms warrant a visit to the doctor? It sounds like acid reflux to me (so I assume I'd need an appointment), but I'd like your opinion before I go. Involves chronic coughing after every meal, lasting for at least an hour or so, and heartburn multiple times a week.

I know you're not my doctor.

For the past month, I've been having heartburn 2-3 times a week. One night (I was studying, not lying down/sleeping), the heartburn started; I took two Tums, to no avail, then two more. The heartburn went away 45 minutes later. This doesn't seem normal to me. It felt like any other instance of heartburn I've had, but much more intense - it hurt to breathe or even move my upper body.

Also, I've felt a strong, almost tickly urge to cough all the time. This is mainly after meals, and lasts quite a while. I try to cough, but it isn't productive and the sensation remains. If this is relevant, I frequently get hiccups which last for 10 or so minutes at a time. I'm not sure why I get them.

Possibly relevant: 19-year-old female, nonsmoker, relatively balanced diet, moderate exercise, healthy weight.

Do I need to see a doctor ASAP? In the meantime, how can I alleviate these symptoms?
posted by cp311 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
IANAD. My guess: Acid reflux is causing irritation around your epiglottis which prevents it from sealing properly, causing you to miss some swallows. Bits of saliva, drinks, and maybe food are going into your trachea, causing the coughing. You can raise the head of your bed by putting wooden blocks under the feet--this will ease the reflux when you are sleeping. But see a doctor anyway, and check your diet and coffee intake. I have a doctor friend who puts patients on heavy duty antacids for this problem.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:37 PM on September 8, 2011

I am not a doctor either, but I've had GERD and that's what this sounds like. But MANY things can masquerade as heartburn, even when you're 19. Please see your doctor to rule those things out, and to find out how to treat what it really is.
posted by headspace at 5:37 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Test it to see if it is the gluten? Is with me, jus' sayin'.
posted by Freedomboy at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2011

Yes. Unusual symptoms that cause discomfort always warrant a trip to the doctor.

The painful heartburn that didn't go away and made it painful to breathe sounds like it could have been an esophageal spasm. Which, with the heartburn, sound like GERD. I started getting bad heartburn when I was in university. Stress made it worse. However, heart attack in women also has many of the same symptoms. Seriously, see a doctor.
posted by looli at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it is GERD, you can try looking for triggers in your diet or stress level. I have found licorice tea (Yogi Tea makes one I like) to clear up the hoarseness that I get. Licorice can mess with your blood pressure, so it is only an occasional measure for people without bp issues (blood pressure problems don't often come with symptoms, so this is a strong warning!).
But, see a doctor.
posted by classa at 5:46 PM on September 8, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, forgot: my BP is always around 110/70.
posted by cp311 at 5:48 PM on September 8, 2011

Reflux should be treated, not merely diagnosed.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had this. At night I would inhale bits of acid. Not fun. I had the couch as well, but it was persistent.

There really isn't a reason to lived with this, so get it treated. It can cause all kinds of horrible things.

I wouldn't make a special appointment for it though. It's not what I would classify as emergent. That's just my opinion.

Also, try an OTC med like previcide or one of the other proton pump inhibitors. It'll work better than Tums and for longer.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:56 PM on September 8, 2011

I'd recommend going to the doctor to get things sorted out -- there are a number of common things this could be, and the doctor will probably be able to fix you right up.

I had similar symptoms; my doctor ultimately did an upper GI barium swallow test* to make sure nothing serious was going on, and it turned out to just be GERD. They also did an H. pylori test to rule out an ulcer. The doctor put me on Nexium and some diet restrictions (nothing spicy or acidic or abrasive) for a while until the symptoms went away and stayed away, and now I can manage it by paying attention to when I start feeling ill and starting a course of OTC medication as soon as I realize what's going on.

* If they have you go through the barium swallow test, a lot of people told me that the barium milkshake was really disgusting so I was kind of dreading it, but I didn't find that to be the case. It tasted a little weird, but not at all horrible. The experience was actually really cool, because I got to watch my insides work. (example video)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2011

go see an ENT, they are the experts in this... they'll put you on a prilosec for two weeks (it's over the counter)... if that doesn't work they can give you the better medicine... they are restricted to giving you that medicine until you try a 2 week treatment...

i had similar symptoms, i sounded like a smoker for a few months... once i got the good medicine, it was a quicker recovery...
posted by fozzie33 at 8:44 PM on September 8, 2011

Definitely see a doctor. My own experience (very much like yours) ended up in heart surgery. I'm guessing you have a 90% chance that it won't, but don't put off finding out.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:09 PM on September 8, 2011

I had heart burn issues years ago. My doctor prescribed Prevacid which worked but was also very expensive. I read an article somewhere online about alternatives and calcium magnesium supplements were suggested. I started taking them daily and they were just as effective as the Prevacid and cost, oh, about 80% less. But as always, I am not a doctor... which is good news for the general population.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 11:54 PM on September 8, 2011

My gallstones presented with symptom just like yours. I was treated for acid reflux for 2 years before finally being diagnosed with gallstones and having surgery to remove my gallbladder. I'm older than you and heavier but you might ask your doctor to rule it out if other treatment doesn't work.
posted by CathyG at 10:37 AM on September 9, 2011

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