Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It’s caused by stomach acid. This leads to a burning discomfort in your upper belly or below your breastbone. Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over. In general, you can successfully treat the symptoms of heartburn at home. However, if frequent heartburn makes it difficult to eat or swallow, your symptoms may be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.
Symptoms for heartburn
Heartburn feels just like its name: a burning sensation behind your sternum, or breastbone, in the middle of your chest Symptoms of heartburn include:
- A burning pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating and may occur at night
- Feel pain in your chest when you bend over or lie down
- Pain that worsens when lying down or bending over
- Have a hot, acidic, bitter, or salty taste in the back of your throat
- Find it hard to swallow
- Bitter or acidic taste in the mouth
Causes of heartbun
Normally, with the help of gravity, the LES keeps stomach acid right where it should be — in your stomach. When it’s working right, the LES opens to allow food into your stomach or to let you belch, then closes again. Meals high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) often lead to heartburn, as do certain medications. Stress and lack of sleep can raise how much acid your stomach makes and can cause heartburn. In some people, the cardiac sphincter doesn’t function properly or it becomes weakened. This leads to contents from the stomach leaking back into the esophagus.
- Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus).
- Normally when you swallow, a band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then the muscle tightens again.
- Heartburn is also a common condition during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, the progesterone hormone can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax.
- Consuming caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol
- Eating spicy foods
- Lying down immediately after eating
- Taking certain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
To determine if your heartburn is a symptom of GERD, your doctor may recommend:
- X-ray view the shape and condition of your esophagus and stomach.
- Endoscopy,to check for abnormalities in your esophagus. A tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken for analysis.
- Ambulatory acid probe tests,to identify when, and for how long, stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. An acid monitor that is placed in your esophagus connects to a small computer that you wear around your waist or on a strap over your shoulder.
- Esophageal motility testing,to measure movement and pressure in your esophagus.
If you experience occasional heartburn, there are several home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate your symptoms.
- lying down after meals
- using tobacco products
- consuming chocolate
- consuming alcohol
Many over-the-counter medications can help relieve heartburn. The options include:
- Antacids,which help neutralize stomach acid. Antacids may provide quick relief. But they can’t heal an esophagus damaged by stomach acid.
- H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs),which can reduce stomach acid. H2RAs don’t act as quickly as antacids, but may provide longer relief.
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid 24HR) and omeprazole (Nexium 24HR, Prilosec OTC), which also can reduce stomach acid. These drugs lessen the amount of acid your stomach makes. They can also calm symptoms of acid indigestion. If OTC medicines don’t work for you, your doctor may give you a prescription version of these types of medicines.
Medications for the treatment of occasional heartburn include antacids, H2 receptor antagonists to reduce stomach acid production, such as Pepcid, and proton pump inhibitors that block acid production, such as:
Occasional heartburn isn’t dangerous. Heartburn often occurs alongside other gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, which are sores in the lining of the esophagus and stomach, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Heartburn isn’t associated with a heart attack. However, many people that have heartburn believe they’re having a heart attack because the symptoms can be very similar. But GERD can sometimes lead to serious problems, such as:
- A long-term cough
- difficulty swallowing
- pain with swallowing
- severe or crushing chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- dark, tarry, or bloody stools
- shortness of breath
- Inflammation or ulcers of the esophagus
- Problems swallowing because of a narrow esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus a condition that can make it more likely to get esophageal cancer.
Long-term heartburn can also affect your quality of life. See your doctor to determine a course of treatment if you find it difficult to carry on your daily life or are severely limited in your activities due to heartburn.
Prevention is the best form of long-term protection from heartburn and though we don’t like to hear it prevention requires a change in lifestyle for most people.
- Avoid foods or activities that may cause your symptoms.
- The first step is consulting with a gastroenterologist. A GI doctor is needed for diagnosing digestive issues. You may be creating too much stomach acid or too little. You could have a hiatal hernia repaired.
- You can also take an over-the-counter medication, such as a chewable antacid tablet, before you eat to prevent heartburn before symptoms start.
- Ginger snacks or ginger tea are also helpful home remedies that you can buy in many stores.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
- Avoid tightfitting clothing, which puts pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Stress can contribute to heartburn by prompting an increase in acid production, by disrupting proper LES function, and by causing increased sensitivity to acid.