Back to top3. Menopause“If someone is having night sweats, my first thought is to ask them about their periods to see whether they are menopausal,” Barrie Weinstein, MD, an assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, tells SELF.Menopause can happen at any point in a person’s 50s, 40s, or even as early as their 30s if they experience premature menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. Thanks to fluctuating hormones—specifically, reduced estrogen and progesterone—menopause can cause a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes that lead to night sweats, chills, irregular or absent periods, mood changes, vaginal dryness, a slower metabolism, and thinning hair, among others, per the Mayo Clinic.Menopause is a completely normal condition that doesn’t automatically require treatment (unless it starts too early, which can be a different story), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options if symptoms like night sweats are interfering with your life. “If patients are having night sweats that are intolerable, they can discuss with their doctor whether hormone replacement would be a good option for them,” Dr. Weinstein says. Different kinds of hormone therapy can help relieve various menopause symptoms, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). But if that’s not something you’re interested in or your doctor doesn’t recommend it as a safe choice for you, there are other medications, including some low-dose antidepressants, that can help decrease those dreaded hot flashes, according to the National Institute on Aging.Back to top4. Obstructive sleep apneaObstructive sleep apnea, or OSA2, is a common sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start briefly while you’re snoozing. If you have OSA, your throat muscles relax when they shouldn’t, which interferes with your airway’s ability to get enough oxygen while you sleep.And yes, it can make you sweat. “One of my colleagues says it’s like you go to the Olympics every night because you’re working so hard to breathe,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in the division of sleep medicine at Stanford University and author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night, tells SELF. Besides night sweats, other symptoms of OSA include loud snoring, excessive fatigue during the day, abruptly waking up during the night while gasping or choking, morning headaches, mood changes, a lower sex drive, and more. If that sounds concerning, well, you’re right on target. OSA can be serious and requires prompt treatment.Treatment options include lifestyle changes like using a nasal decongestant before you sleep or avoiding sleeping on your back, sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airways open, using a mouthguard to do the same, and more intensive options, like surgery to remove the tissue that’s blocking your airways.Back to top5. Acid refluxAcid reflux happens when stomach acid travels back up into the esophagus, which commonly triggers the feeling of heartburn3. When this happens chronically—more than twice per week—it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Anecdotally, some people who have acid reflux or GERD experience night sweats, which tend to resolve once the acid reflux is treated, Dr. Paauw says. There are very few studies exploring the link between night sweats and acid reflux, so experts aren’t 100% certain why the two are connected. However, Dr. Paauw believes acid reflux may trigger the autonomic nervous system4, which regulates bodily processes such as breathing, to increase heart rate. And an elevated heart rate may lead to excessive sweat, he says. When someone is lying down, they don’t have the benefit of gravity to help keep stomach acid from flowing into the esophagus, which may explain why people with acid reflux experience night sweats, Dr. Paauw says.
Digestive troubles, for many people, top the list of symptoms that are straight-up miserable to live with. After all, who wants to feel constantly gassy or bloated while running to the bathroom left and right? Not only can these symptoms feel uncomfortable (or even downright painful), they can seriously impact how you feel about yourself and the way you live your daily life. If you’re not sure what’s going on, don’t fret. Oftentimes, there is a simple explanation for gastrointestinal (GI) issues. But if they’re starting to feel constant, it’s worth exploring whether something more complicated could be lingering under the surface. Take this quiz to find out what might be causing your stomach problems, and when you should consider seeing a doctor about them—because you deserve to feel good in your body.
If you have heartburn here and there, you probably don’t have a huge issue on your hands. Most people can manage the discomfort with over-the-counter antacids, which help neutralize stomach acid, after a particularly triggering meal (thanks, greasy pizza!). But “heartburn that is so severe it keeps you up at night for more than one to two weeks warrants investigation with a gastroenterologist, Dr. Shukla says.Constant heartburn is a sign of uncontrolled acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—a condition that impacts roughly 20% of people in the U.S., per the NIDDK. Getting a proper diagnosis is crucial if you deal with heartburn or other symptoms—like difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, or unexplained coughing—more than twice a week, as untreated reflux can lead to complications over time, like inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus, which can possibly cause ulcers or problems with swallowing, respectively.To complicate things further, heartburn can feel similar to cardiac chest pain, which can signal a heart attack, Dr. Chen points out. “If you are unsure, please call your doctor for advice on next steps,” she says. If you feel other possible signs of a heart attack—like unexplained shortness of breath, pain in your back, neck, jaw, or either arm, or sudden sweating—it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.Back to top4. You’re having an oddly difficult time swallowing.You may not think of issues with your throat as a “digestive” symptom, but think about it: Your entire digestion process starts in your mouth!Having a sore throat that makes it uncomfortable to swallow is very different from actually feeling like you can’t swallow well. Dysphagia is the medical name for this phenomenon, and it goes beyond not feeling like you can get food down easily. You may cough a lot after eating, hear gurgling sounds from your throat while eating, clear your throat a lot, chew very slowly, or feel chest discomfort after swallowing, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.“Any type of swallowing difficulty should prompt a visit to the doctor,” Dr. Chen says. (If you know the issue is caused by an object stuck in your esophagus or you’re having trouble swallowing even saliva, she recommends heading to the emergency room.)With that said, if you’re having a difficult time swallowing, there could be an underlying issue to address. As we mentioned, it could be caused by uncontrolled acid reflux, but dysphagia can also be rooted in stress or anxiety, a brain or nerve condition, or direct issues with your tongue, throat, or esophagus, so it’s not something to ignore if it’s interfering with your day-to-day life. In some cases, trouble swallowing can point to esophageal cancer, but Dr. Shukla says this is a less likely explanation.Back to top5. Your stomach pain is borderline agonizing.Severe abdominal pain is different from the stomach ache you experience after eating too much. Instead, you may be experiencing intense cramping that won’t let up or sharp, stabbing pain that forces you to lay down. “If the abdominal pain is severe and persists, it needs to be evaluated,” Dr. Chen says.If you’re really uncomfortable but it’s not so bad that it’s disrupting your daily life, make an appointment with your primary care doctor if you have one, Dr. Chen says. But if you’re doubled over in pain and can’t imagine going on with your day in that state, it’s best to head to the emergency room.
We’ve all felt the pain of heartburn after eating a delicious burger. On the quest for relief, you’ve probably found yourself asking: What’s the difference between heartburn and acid reflux, anyway? And what the heck does GERD mean?In the moment, those buzzwords and questions may not seem to matter as much as finding something that will make the awful sensation stop, but understanding what’s going on in your digestive tract—especially if this is a frequent problem for you—can be the key to preventing future episodes. Here’s a simple breakdown of what causes acid reflux, how heartburn plays a role in the condition, and what you should know to keep both out of your future and finally enjoy your meals in peace.First, what is acid reflux?To understand why stomach acid might move in the wrong direction, let’s start with a quick anatomy refresher: The tube that stems from your mouth to your stomach is your esophagus, and at the very end of your esophagus is your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a bundle of muscle that acts as a valve above your stomach1.This valve allows food to pass through into the stomach and, when operating properly, prevents powerful stomach acids—which break down what you just ate—from splashing back up into the esophagus.That’s the ideal operation. But when there’s weakness or relaxation in your LES, then the valve doesn’t close as tightly as it should. That’s when you’re at higher risk of stomach acid and partially digested food coming up into the esophagus. This upward flow is called gastroesophageal reflux, according to the National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).Many people who aren’t familiar with acid reflux may assume the issue is happening just near the stomach, “but acid can come all the way up the esophagus, especially if you’re lying down,” Gokulakrishnan Balasubramanian, M.D., a gastroenterologist who focuses on esophageal, neurogastroenterology, and motility disorders at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. “For example, you may get acid damage in the vocal cords or trachea, and that acid may then go down into the lungs as well, so you could have coughing or other respiratory symptoms.”What’s the difference between heartburn vs. acid reflux?Heartburn is just what that term implies: You feel a burning pain in your chest just behind the breastbone. Asking whether you have heartburn or acid reflux is actually a trick question because heartburn is simply considered a symptom of acid reflux, per the NIDDK. If you have heartburn, you’re experiencing some form of reflux. It’s similar to asking whether you have swollen gums or gingivitis—the former is a symptom of the latter.However, not everyone who has acid reflux experiences heartburn, just as you may not have swollen gums even though you struggle with gingivitis. But it’s more likely that you will deal with heartburn since it’s the most common symptom of acid reflux, says Dr. Balasubramanian. Heartburn implies that your acid reflux has come up to the level of your heart, and it’s usually worse after eating common trigger foods like chocolate or tomatoes or when lying down after eating or drinking. You may also have a bitter or acidic taste in the mouth, which Dr. Balasubramanian says is an effect of the acid traveling higher up your throat.How is acid reflux diagnosed?First, your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist will ask about your symptoms before doing any type of imaging or lab tests. Beyond heartburn, symptoms of acid reflux include:Difficulty swallowing or feeling like food is caught in your throatNauseaRegurgitation of undigested or partially digested food, which may lead to vomitingCoughing, which implies acid may be affecting your throat or lungsChest pain, particularly burningSore throat or feeling of your vocal cords getting “burned”Breathing issues if acid is in your lungsBad breathDifficulty sleeping, and/or waking up with pain
In the third trimester, the size of the uterus becomes the third factor because it’s pushing your stomach upward, and this can cause the acid to move in the wrong direction, especially as that valve is still loosened from the progesterone increase.What are the symptoms of heartburn during pregnancy?The top way to identify heartburn during pregnancy is that burning sensation in your chest, thanks to the acid backup. But Dr. Gray says that’s not the only sign of acid reflux.5 You could also experience:Pain in the chestAn acidic taste in your mouth or the back of your throatSlight cough or hoarseness due to acid affecting your vocal cordsWorsening symptoms of burning or pain when lying down or bending overPainful or difficulty swallowingMany pregnant people also report feeling nauseous, Dr. Gray adds, and some may even vomit as a result. That’s why heartburn can sometimes be mistaken for morning sickness, particularly in the first trimester.Can lifestyle changes prevent pregnancy heartburn?Here’s some good news: Although heartburn is one of the biggest complaints during pregnancy, it’s also one of the easiest to treat for many people, says Dr. Ruiz.Lifestyle changes can make a big difference. For example, eating smaller and more frequent meals may be enough for relief. This helps the stomach expand less, potentially reducing any problematic pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter. As an added bonus, the approach tends to be better for keeping energy levels consistent, Dr. Ruiz says. If heartburn at night is a problem—and even if it’s not—it’s helpful to avoid eating within two to three hours before bed, he adds.The kind of advice given to non-pregnant heartburn sufferers about diet applies here, too. That means staying away from highly acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and onions, as well as spicy choices that may kick off more acid production. Dr. Gray says three options that tend to exacerbate heartburn during pregnancy are chocolate, caffeine, and carbonated beverages.“Nobody wants to hear that about chocolate, sorry,” she says with a laugh. “I promise you can probably go back to it later.” Another favorite you should probably skip is peppermint. The flavor is heavily associated with calming the stomach6 and it’s common for pregnant people to use peppermint candy to alleviate morning sickness. But Dr. Gray says this might be making your heartburn worse in the long run since peppermint can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, irritating the esophagus in the process.Another hack: Sleep with your upper body elevated slightly7, so it’s at least above the height of your stomach. You can prop up the top of your bed, use an adjustable bed frame, or sleep on a wedge pillow. That may be difficult as your pregnancy progresses and you can’t lie on your back, but if you’re in the first or second trimester, it may be a way to get relief from nighttime heartburn.What treatments help with pregnancy heartburn relief?You’ve cut out chocolate (grudgingly), propped up for sleep, cut out the tomato sauce and peppermint, but the heartburn is still there. So, what now? What’s the best medication to take for heartburn while pregnant?