Heartburn is a common ailment that affects up to 15 million Americans. Characterized mainly by a burning sensation in the chest that is felt after eating, it is not actually related to one’s heart at all.
Heartburn is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter does not function properly.
Located between the top of the stomach and the bottom of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter is tasked with opening to allow the food to pass through to the stomach and closing to prevent stomach contents from moving back into the esophagus.
When it fails to work properly, stomach acid can travel back up into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation.
What Causes Heartburn?
When the lower esophageal sphincter functions improperly, it is most likely due to either too much food in the stomach or too much pressure on the stomach.
These are both caused by a number of lifestyle factors and in less common cases, indicate a more serious underlying medical condition.
The most common lifestyle factors that can lead to the lower esophageal sphincter not working include:
- Eating too much
- Carbonated beverages
- Acidic foods
- Spicy foods
- Hiatal hernia
- Slow digestion
Regardless of the reasons behind heartburn, the symptoms one can experience are the same. The most common symptom is the burning sensation in the chest, mainly in the area located behind the breastbone. This burning feeling can last only a few minutes up to several hours.
It is an extremely uncomfortable feeling that can be disruptive to one’s life.
Besides a burning sensation, some may experience actual pain the chest region when suffering from heartburn. This pain is usually exacerbated by bending over forwards or lying down. Other symptoms one may experience include a burning in the throat, typically if the stomach acid travels up the entire esophagus and into the back one’s throat.
When this happens, one can also experience an acidic taste in one’s mouth. The acidic taste can be a nuisance but is not typically painful.
Less Common Symptoms
There are also a handful of lesser known symptoms that are connected with heartburn. While not as common as the burning sensation, they can be painful and problematic nonetheless. These are:
- Excessive coughing
- Difficulty swallowing
- A feeling of having food “stuck” in the chest or throat
- Chronic sore throat
All of the symptoms of heartburn are at their worst directly after eating, especially since so many heartburn triggers are directly tied to what one eats and drinks.
Symptoms are also worse if one is lying down, if one leans forward, if one is stressed or when one is exercising.
According to the MayoClinic, heartburn is a burning in your chest just behind your breastbone.
Symptoms Requiring Medical Attention
Aside from the symptoms listed above, there are certain symptoms that may accompany heartburn and are indicators of a serious medical condition. For example, symptoms of a heart attack often mimic symptoms of heartburn.
That is why it is vitally important that if one is experiencing heartburn along with any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
These red flag symptoms include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Vomiting blood
- Dizziness or lightheaded
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in the stools
- Pain going into the neck, shoulders or arm
- Sweating combined with pain in the chest
- Heartburn occurring 3 times a week or more for at least 2 week
Since the symptoms of heartburn can be quite uncomfortable and painful, people often seek ways to reduce these symptoms or prevent future occurrences altogether. The most common treatment options are lifestyle changes and medications.
Eat smaller mealsLifestyle changes that reduce the symptoms of heartburn include:
- Eat slower, allowing time for proper digestion
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight if obese or overweight
- Avoid trigger foods and beverages
- Incorporate foods that neutralize stomach acid
- Raise the head of the bed 6 inches using a bed wedge such as the one in the image to the right.
- Avoid lying down for 3 hours after eating
The most common medication used to treat heartburn is antacids. Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid so that if it does travel back into the esophagus, it does not cause the burning sensation.
This medication provides a quick relief but it is only a temporary fix. While they can be used multiple times, overuse of antacids can have serious side effects so one should use caution.
Other medications that are used to relieve the symptoms of heartburn are H2 blockers, Proton Pump Inhibitors, Foaming Agents and Prokinetics.
We recommend that you treat heartburn and acid reflux with aloe vera juice.
If one is experiencing any of these symptoms and believes they may have heartburn, it is important that they seek the advice of a medical professional. The information provided here is meant to be informative and does not constitute medical advice. A physician can provide a proper diagnosis and discuss any necessary treatment options.