The colloquial term, “heartburn” refers to the painful feeling that results from acids in your stomach flowing backward into the esophagus. Heartburn is a common problem, affecting 20% of the population. Also known as “gastroesophageal reflux disease,” or “acid reflux,” the popular name is misleading, as it has nothing to with the heart. Mild, occasional heartburn is common and not overly grave. However, ongoing symptoms can lead to serious medical problems.
At the bottom of the esophagus, the tube that transports food to the stomach, lies a ringed muscle, the “lower esophageal sphincter.” This muscle opens and closes to allow food into the stomach and prevent the stomach’s contents from flowing out. Malfunctioning of the sphincter leads to stomach acid flowing backwards, into the esophagus, causing a burning pain.
Sphincter muscle malfunction can be caused by overweight, pregnancy, hernias, overeating, and pressure to the stomach. Smoking, certain medicines and certain foods can instigate heartburn, including high-fat items, sugar, onions, citrus, alcohol, coffee and spicy foods.
What are the symptoms?
The most common and recognizable symptom of heartburn is a burning pain in the lower chest. Symptoms are most often felt after eating. Pregnancy also causes instances of heartburn, when the weight of the baby puts pressure on the stomach. Because of the location of the symptoms, heartburn is often confused with a heart attack or heart-related condition.
How is it treated?
One can address mild, occasional heartburn themselves by:
– Avoiding foods which trigger symptoms
– Taking over-the-counter antacids (tablets or liquid) after meals and at bedtime
– Avoid lying down flat after eating
Serious or ongoing heartburn should be addressed with your doctor, who can provide prescription solutions that usually work by reducing stomach acidity.
Drinking a spoonful of baking soda (a base that will neutralize acid) dissolved in water. However, this is not a viable long-term solution.
Do you have questions about heartburn? Can you recommend treatments that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below…