Heartburn
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

Coupons for Heartburn

Heartburn

Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation that runs through the chest. Nearly one in ten Americans have the symptoms of heartburn at least once a week. Most people who experience an occasional round of heartburn have no cause for alarm. However, regular heartburn can be a sign of more serious conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.

Causes of Heartburn

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid leaving the stomach and entering the esophagus. This can occur when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close properly. In normal circumstances, this sphincter keeps stomach acid inside the stomach. Eating too much food or putting too much pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter can prevent it from closing properly, allowing stomach acid into the esophagus. This burning stomach acid causes the sensation known as heartburn.

Symptoms of Heartburn

The symptoms of heartburn vary, but commonly include:

  • A burning sensation through the chest and esophagus.
  • Constant cough or a sore throat.
  • Tight feeling in the chest.
  • Sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Problems swallowing.
  • Lump in the throat that won't go away.

Who's at Risk?

Some people have a higher risk of heartburn than others. Those most at risk include:

  • Overweight individuals. Fat deposits put additional pressure on the digestive organs.
  • Pregnant women. The growth of the fetus increase the pressure on the digestive system.
  • People taking certain medications. Some medications loosen the esophageal sphincter.
  • Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
  • People who drink alcohol regularly. Alcohol relaxes the muscles including the esophageal muscles, making heartburn more likely to occur.
  • Heavy smokers. Smoking regularly damages the lower esophageal sphincter, making heartburn more common.

Treatment and Prevention

Some heartburn is preventable if people change how they eat and what they do after eating. People should avoid eating large meals as too much food can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to close improperly. Certain foods are known to cause problems, including fatty foods, onions, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. When dining, people should eat slowly and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

After finishing a meal, individuals should avoid lying down or bending over. Sitting up straight is ideal, as this helps the lower esophageal sphincter stay closed and keep stomach acid where it belongs. Frequent heartburn sufferers should avoid eating shortly before bedtime, as most sleeping positions can trigger an unfortunate round of nighttime heartburn.

Even with prevention, heartburn can still happen, especially to those at a higher risk. People who are overweight and suffer from recurring rounds of heartburn may benefit from losing weight. Losing weight will reduce the pressure on digestive organs from fat deposits. Over-the-counter antacids are a good choice for people with occasional heartburn incidents. These antacids work by neutralizing the stomach acid. Prescription medications are available for people who suffer persistent heartburn attacks. These medications may help heartburn sufferers by blocking acid production. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair the lower esophageal sphincter.