Dr Know - heartburn for more than three weeks?
A monthly column by Dr Jonty Heaversedge, Chair of NHS Southwark CCG
Most people will experience heartburn at some point in their life – but if it happens most days for three weeks or more it's time to get some advice.
Speak to your local pharmacist – they will be able to help you choose over the counter medicines which should ease your discomfort.
If you're taking medicine and it isn't helping, you should see your doctor. The chances are it's nothing serious, but there's a small possibility that it is a sign of cancer of the oesophagus or stomach. Like most cancers, getting it detected early will make it easier to treat. You're not wasting anyone's time by getting the symptoms checked out. If it's nothing to worry about it will put your mind at rest.
Cancer of the oesophagus and stomach are relatively uncommon but serious types of cancers. They are the 9th and 11th most common cancers in the UK, with a total of about 12,900 new cases diagnosed each year. Both cancers affect men and women, but they are more common in men. Nine out of ten people who develop these types of cancer are over 50 and smokers and heavy drinkers are more at risk.
Other symptoms to look out for are unexpected weight loss and difficulty swallowing with food getting stuck on the way down.
The oesophagus and stomach are part of your digestive system. The oesophagus (more commonly known as the gullet or food pipe), is the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach, where it starts to be broken down.
There are things you can do to help reduce your chances of getting these kinds of cancer. For example, if you're a smoker you should consider quitting. No matter what age you stop smoking, it reduces your chances of developing cancer and makes a real difference to your health in general. There are a number of treatments now out there that can be prescribed to help you stop smoking. So talk to your GP or practice nurse and get some help – you have a much greater chance of stopping for good if you get some support.
You should also cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink. Drinking too much can lead to a number of health problems and is linked with cancer. By drinking less, you'll reduce your health risks.
It's also important to look after yourself and eat healthily. If you're overweight, you can lose weight by combining a calorie-controlled diet with regular exercise. Try to get your 5-a-day by eating more vegetables and fruit - fish and wholegrain foods are good for your health too.
You can find out more information on stomach and oesophagus cancer by going to www.nhs.uk/ogcancer.