Heartburn is experienced by 60 million Americans at least once a month and roughly 15 million people every day.
Occasional heartburn is not generally a cause for concern, but if you’re experiencing it frequently this can indicate other underlying health issues.
Are you wondering if what you’ve been experiencing is heartburn, and what heartburn is?
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about heartburn including its causes, symptoms, and ways to find relief.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is created by something called acid reflux. Acid reflux is where a portion of the contents of your stomach make their way back up your esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that transports food from your mouth to your stomach.
Heartburn generally creates a sensation of burning pain in your chest, often right behind your breastbone. It can last up to a few hours or be gone after a few minutes.
You may notice this pain is worse in the evening, after eating, or when bending over or lying down.
If someone is experiencing acid reflux more than twice in a week, this means they have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when the valve at the bottom of your esophagus, known as the esophageal sphincter, doesn’t close properly. Normally the valve opens to allow food to pass through and closes to keep your stomach contents in your stomach. The strong acidic mixture in your stomach is not intended to stay in your esophagus, so when it slips through, you experience a burning sensation.
Heartburn can affect people of all ages, but certain lifestyle factors might increase your chances of experiencing it.
Things like smoking, low levels of exercise, and obesity are often considered causal factors.
Heartburn is also a common symptom of pregnancy.
Eating too quickly or eating too much can also cause heartburn. Another trigger is eating too close to bedtime or eating while lying down.
There are also over the counter medications and prescription drugs taken for other conditions that can cause acid reflux. These medications include drugs used to treat:
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- Parkinson’s disease
- muscle spasm
- hormone therapy
While lack of exercise can make you more susceptible to heartburn, exercise can also be a trigger. This is because it can put pressure on the abdomen.
What Are the Symptoms of Heartburn?
The most common heartburn and acid reflux symptoms include:
- a burning sensation felt in the middle of the chest
- a burning sensation in your throat
- indigestion-like burning pain
- pain that gets worse when bending over or lying down
- a bitter, acrid, and foul taste in the mouth
- radiating pain that is felt in the angle of the arm, throat, neck, or jaw
If you commonly experience these symptoms, you should consult with your physician. It’s possible that your doctor will refer you to a gut medicine specialist known as a gastroenterologist.
How Can You Find Heartburn Relief?
Fortunately, making lifestyle changes could radically improve your experience of heartburn.
If a person is overweight and experiencing heartburn, losing weight could make an improvement. In addition to this, following a healthy diet and getting the recommended amount of exercise could help you experience heartburn less often.
Smokers who have frequent heartburn should consider quitting, as smoking is seen as a cause of the condition.
You’ll also want to sit up straight while eating meals and avoid eating directly before lying down. Heavy lifting should also be avoided.
Another thing you can do to find heartburn relief is to monitor your trigger foods and avoid them. Common trigger foods include caffeine, spicy foods, full-cream milk, alcohol, acidic food like orange juice, lemon, and tomato, and gassy foods like soft drinks.
It’s best to not eat in the two to three hours before you go to sleep, eating too close to the time in which you go to bed can cause heartburn.
There are a number of different medicines available to treat heartburn as well. The most common of these are antacids, proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) such as the drug Dexilant, and histamine 2 blockers. All three of these types of drugs work by reducing the amount of stomach acid in your stomach.
When to See a Doctor
You should set up an appointment with your physician if:
- you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice a week
- you’ve been having a hard time swallowing
- your symptoms continue despite using over the counter medication
- you’re experiencing persistent vomiting or nausea
- you’ve lost weight due to difficulty eating or not having an appetite
Remember that frequent acid reflux and heartburn can be indicative of more serious underlying conditions or can lead to more severe medical problems.
If you’re experiencing severe pressure in your chest or pain, it’s essential that you seek help immediately. This is particularly true if you’re experiencing these symptoms along with difficulty breathing or pain in your arm or jaw. Chest pain can potentially be the symptom of a heart attack.
You Don’t Have to Live With Heartburn
Heartburn is an incredibly uncomfortable and painful sensation. While experiencing heartburn occasionally is very common, frequent heartburn should be addressed.
If you’ve made lifestyle changes and over the counter medicine just isn’t cutting it, you should consult your doctor to see which kind of prescription medication is right for you. It’s important to note that even over the counter medications can have side effects and should not be overused.
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