Is heartburn covered under workers’ comp in Georgia?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the throat or chest that occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn may also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as burping, bloating and regurgitation.
Signs of heartburn
Common signs and symptoms of heartburn include:
- A sense of burning in the chest (heartburn)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sudden overproduction of saliva
- Throat pain
- The sensation of a lump in the throat
Common health problems associated with heartburn
In addition to the common discomfort associated with heartburn, it can lead to additional health problems, including:
- Persistent cough
- Dental cavities
- Laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx)
What is GERD?
While heartburn isn’t necessarily dangerous in and of itself, it can be an early sign of a more serious health problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when stomach contents back up into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach).
GERD can cause inflammation of the esophagus and other complications such as ulcers and bleeding. It’s also associated with an increased risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus (a precancerous condition that affects the lining of the upper part of the esophagus).
How is heartburn treated?
Doctors often treat persistent heartburn and GERD with antacids or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). In fact, heartburn medications are among the most commonly used drugs in the United States, with an estimated 50 million Americans taking them regularly.
What are proton pump inhibitors?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) suppress acid production in the stomach. They were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991 for long-term use in treating chronic heartburn associated with GERD or erosive esophagitis.
The most commonly prescribed PPIs include:
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Pantoprazole (Protonix)
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
PPIs are among the most widely prescribed drugs worldwide and are available over the counter and by prescription.
Side effects of PPIs
Unfortunately, these popular heartburn medications may come with some unwanted side effects. The most common side effects of PPIs include the following:
- Abdominal pain
Serious side effects of PPIs
New research also suggests that long-term use of PPIs may be associated with an increased risk of the following serious side effects:
- Low magnesium levels
- Bone fractures
- Swollen extremities
- Heart attack
- Kidney failure
One study also found that people who take PPIs for at least 3 years had:
- An 18 percent greater risk of developing dementia compared to those who took them only briefly or not at all
- A 21 percent increased risk of stroke compared to those who took them for less than three years.
Heartburn medication lawsuits
More than 15,000 lawsuits have already been filed against PPI manufacturers. In 2017, most federal PPI lawsuits were consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL), which was intended to simplify and expedite the legal process. Currently, these lawsuits are still being litigated in court.
Alternative (safer) treatment options for heartburn
If you experience frequent heartburn, there are several treatment options available that don’t involve medication. They include the following:
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves placing very fine needles at specific points on the body to promote healing. The evidence is mixed as to whether acupuncture helps with heartburn symptoms, but some people find it works for them.
- Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by the brain’s pineal gland that helps regulate sleep cycles by promoting drowsiness. Studies have found that melatonin may help treat heartburn symptoms when taken at bedtime since sleep disturbances are common among people with heartburn and reflux disease.
- Hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy has been studied as an adjunct treatment for severe cases of heartburn. In addition to reducing heartburn symptoms, many people also report experiencing a better quality of life than those who only received standard medical treatment.
- Herbal remedies. Some herbs have been used for centuries to treat digestive problems, including heartburn. Herbs that may help with heartburn include aloe vera, ginger root, chamomile, peppermint and slippery elm.
What activities increase the likelihood of developing heartburn?
There are many lifestyle choices and behaviors that can increase your risk of developing heartburn. Some of these include:
- Eating late at night. Eating a large meal or drinking alcohol late in the evening can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and cause acid to back up into your esophagus.
- Drinking caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause the LES to relax, allowing stomach acids to escape into the esophagus.
- Smoking cigarettes or using chewing tobacco. Smokers are more likely to experience heartburn than nonsmokers because smoking irritates the lining of the esophagus and increases acid reflux by relaxing the LES. The nicotine in tobacco products also causes relaxation of the smooth muscle tissue in your digestive tract, which contributes to heartburn as well as other digestive problems like constipation, diarrhea and bloating.
- Being overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese puts additional pressure on your abdomen while sitting or lying down, which increases reflux symptoms by allowing stomach contents to move up into your esophagus more easily. In addition, extra abdominal fat increases the production of hormones called adipokines (including leptin), which has been linked to an increased risk of GERD symptoms in women.
- Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases pressure in the abdomen and intestines, which causes more acid to be released from the stomach. This increased acid can lead to heartburn.
Do certain jobs make people most susceptible to developing heartburn?
People who work in highly stressful situations are more likely to develop heartburn and GERD. The more stressful the situation, the greater the risk of developing heartburn symptoms.
Additionally, certain activities on the job can increase your chance of heartburn, including:
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Working in front of a computer screen all day
- Heavy lifting (such as construction)
- Eating on the job or working with food or beverages all day
- Frequent bending, reaching and twisting
Can I get workers’ compensation benefits for heartburn?
To help you understand if your heartburn qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits, it’s important that you know the basics of Georgia workers’ compensation insurance.
What is workers’ compensation insurance?
All Georgia companies with 3 or more employees are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The state’s Department of Labor handles claims and insurance plans, while private companies provide benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that benefits injured employees. That means you don’t need to prove that your employer was to blame for your injury in order to collect benefits.
Workers’ compensation provides the following benefits to injured workers:
- reimbursement for all necessary medical treatment and equipment
- Wage loss replacement, which is typically two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wages while they are unable to work or can only work in a limited capacity
- Death benefits to certain dependents of employees who die after a work accident
Who qualifies for Georgia workers’ compensation?
To qualify for workers’ compensation in Georgia, workers meet the following requirements:
- You must work for an employer with 3 or more employees.
- You must suffer an injury or illness resulting from your employment duties.
- The injury must occur in the course of employment and not be caused by negligence or willful misconduct.
Find out who is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia, and who is not (exceptions). What are the determining factors involved in eligibility?
How do I prove an occupational illness (like heartburn) is caused by my job?
To prove an occupational illness was caused by your job, you’ll need to show that your condition was directly caused by something that happened at work or something that was caused by your work environment.
To prove causation, it will be necessary to show the following:
- The condition developed as a result of the particular hazards associated with your job.
- The condition is caused by elements present in your workplace.
- The exposure to occupational hazards, and not something else outside of work, caused the condition.
- The condition developed during the course of your employment.
Proving causation in the case of heartburn can be especially difficult because heartburn can have many causes and triggers, making it difficult to pinpoint your job as the only potential factor in your heartburn diagnosis.
Steps to take when filing a workers’ compensation claim
If you believe your illness or injury may qualify for workers’ comp benefits in Georgia, it’s necessary to take the following steps when filing a claim:
- Seek medical attention. You must seek medical attention for your injury or illness. Doing so helps establish a connection between your injury or illness and your job, which is necessary for a successful workers’ comp claim.
- Notify your employer. To receive workers’ compensation benefits, you must notify your employer of your injury or illness within 30 days of the accident or the discovery of your illness or injury.
- File a claim. Next, you’ll need to file a claim with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation by completing Form WC-14. Be sure to also send a copy to your employer and their workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
- Contact a workers’ comp attorney. If you want help with the process of filing a claim or your claim is denied, you should seek immediate help from a workers’ compensation attorney to ensure your rights are protected.
Injured workers in Georgia should learn how to spot and recognize the signs that an insurance company is lowballing them by offering a settlement that’s much lower than it should be.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation claims can be complicated, especially if you’re suffering from an occupational illness that wasn’t caused by a one-time accident that resulted in an injury. A workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate your case and gather evidence to help tie your illness or injury to your job so you can get the compensation you need.
If you’re suffering after a workplace accident or illness in Georgia, contact the experienced attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys. Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers across Georgia recover maximum compensation for their injuries.