All about Heartburn


Have you ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest?

Of course this occurs along with a bitter taste in your mouth or throat. If these symptoms are what you are going through, then you are the victim of heartburn. Yes! There is nothing to worry but the symptoms can aggravate if you consume a large course meal or lying down. Generally, there are various successful treatments you can do at home to cure heartburns but if you are going through frequent heartburns which makes it difficult for eating or swallowing, then they are quite serious, and you really need to get treatment for this medical condition.

Causes Of Heartburn

A heartburn often happens when the contents present in your stomach goes back to the esophagus. The esophagus is a food pipe where fluids and food from the mouth reaches the stomach. The esophagus is connected to the stomach at a junction which is called as lower esophageal sphincter or cardiac.

If the cardiac sphincter functions in a proper manner, then it will close down when the food moves from the esophagus and goes into the stomach. For some people (i.e. in very rare cases), the cardiac sphincter won’t function in a proper manner or sometimes it can become weak. Now, this might lead to the contents present in the stomach to leak back into the esophagus. There are chances that the stomach acid which is formed might irritate the esophagus and this is what causes heartburn. The scientific term for this condition is called reflux.

Do you know that the heartburn can be due to the hiatal hernia? Now this occurs when a small part of the stomach pushes food through the diaphragm and right into the chest. There are chances that ladies who are pregnant might suffer from heartburn and this occurs when the progesterone hormone of the pregnant women lowers the esophageal sphincter and makes it relax.What happens is that it will allow the contents of the stomach to go into the esophagus, causing a huge amount of irritation.

In addition, there are other lifestyle choices and health conditions which can worsen your heartburn. This includes –

  • being obese or overweight
  • smoking
  • consuming spicy food
  • consuming certain kind of medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin
  • consuming chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol
  • lying down as soon as you have food

Most of the time, with the assistance of the gravity, the LES will keep the acids of the stomach at the place where it needs to be, i.e. in your stomach. Now, as it is working right, the LES might open, thereby allowing the food to travel to your stomach or even allows you to belch and then it will close again. However, if the LES opens quite often or it doesn’t close in the proper manner, the stomach acid will go into the esophagus and cause a huge amount of burning sensation.

Now in case the LES doesn’t tighten as it needs to be, then there are two major things which causes an issue. One of the major one might be overeating which simply means putting a huge amount of food into your stomach. The other one is placing too much pressure on your stomach, this is common due to pregnancy, obesity, and constipation.

Food To Relax LES

There are certain types of food which can help to increase the production of your stomach acid or relax the LES. They are following –

  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Chocolate
  • Onions and garlic
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated products or coffee
  • Peppermint

Sometimes meals which are high in oil (animal or vegetable) and fat can cause heartburn and even certain kind of medications. Lack of sleep and stress can even increase the amount of acid that you stomach produces and lead to serious heartburn. In the case of pregnant women, the hormone progesterone will relax the LES and can cause heartburn. Even smoking can assist in relaxing the LES and increase the amount of stomach acid.

How Long Heartburn Last?

There is no exact time period for a heartburn to occur and get cured. It varies. For certain people it might last for few minutes while for other it can be for many hours. In US, heartburn occurs once in a week for an average 20 % of Americans and it is very much common among pregnant women.

Having occasional heartburn is not that serious. However, a long-term heartburn called as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) will lead to serious issues like –

  • Laryngitis
  • Long term cough
  • Ulcers of the esophagus or inflammation
  • Barrett’s esophagus which is a serious condition that can sometimes lead to esophageal cancer
  • Issues in swallowing due to the presences of the narrow esophagus

Treatments Available For Heartburn

If you are often having (occasional) heartburn, then there are various home remedies and even lifestyle changes which can easily assist in alleviating the symptoms. You can try to change your lifestyle like getting a healthy weight, which can easily lower the symptoms.

Also, you can avoid doing certain things like –

  • Using any kind of tobacco products
  • Lying down after having meals
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Consuming chocolate
  • Consuming caffeinated drinks

Now if these treatments don’t show any signs of improvement, then you surely need to go and see a doctor. The first thing your doctor will do is check your medical history and inquire about the symptoms. Also, the doctor will ask and make you go for various tests to see what is causing the heartburn. The following are the test you might have to undergo –

  • An endoscopy which is to check for any kind of irritation of the esophagus or ulcer or the lining of the stomach. Here a small tube equipped with camera will be passed down your throat and right into your stomach to find out how much acids are there in your esophagus.
  • An X-ray of the abdomen or stomach

Based on the diagnosis, the doctor will give the required treatment option for reducing or eliminating the symptoms. The medicines for treating the occasional heartburn consist of H2 receptor antagonists for lowering the production of stomach acid like Pepcid or Zantac, antacids, proton pump inhibitors which can easily block the production of acid like Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium, and Protonix.

Frankly, these medicines can be quite helpful, but of course they have a huge side effect. Do you know that antacids can lead to constipation and even diarrhea? Make sure to consult your physician with regard to the medications that you need to take so that you aren’t at the risk of having any drug interactions.

Complications Associated With Heartburns

It isn’t a cause for concern if you have occasional heartburn. But if the symptoms are quite frequent, then you have a serious healthy issue and the only solution is medical treatment. Keep in mind that if you don’t get the required treatment for heartburn, you might have additional health issues like inflammation of the esophagus which is known as esophagitis or sometimes called as Barrett’s esophagus. The Barrett’s espohagus will lead to modifying the esophagus’s lining and this can increase the chances of getting esophageal cancer.

Also, there are chances that long-term heartburn will even effect the quality of life. So, it is better if you seek the services of doctor to find out the course of treatment in case you are finding it difficult to carry out the day to day activities or if you activities are limited due to heartburn.

Home Remedies & Lifestyle Change

Not many people know that lifestyle changes can assist in easing the causes of heartburn. The following are the changes you need to follow-

  • Avoid wearing tight fitted clothes which easily puts pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and abdomen.
  • Maintain a healthy and balanced weight. Excess pounds can easily put pressure on your abdomen and this will push your stomach, thereby causing the acid to go back into your esophagus.
  • Avoid having food stuffs which can trigger your heartburn.
  • Avoid having late meals
  • Avoid lying down immediately after having meals. Wait for at least three hours.
  • Try to elevate the head of your bed if you experience heartburn regularly at night or while you are sleeping. If that’s not possible, then you can insert a wedge among the box spring and mattress so that your body is elevated from the waist up. You can even try to raise your head using additional pillows, which is very much effective.
  • Try to avoid alcohol and smoking. Both of these will lower the rate of esophageal sphincter and its ability to function in a proper manner.
  • Avoid having large meals. You can try to have smaller meals all throughout the day.

Medications Used For Heartburn

One of the best medicines for heartburn is antacids. You can have then after meals, at the time of sleeping or as and when needed so that the excess acid can be bind in the stomach and for coating the esophagus. Another medicine to try out is the Histamine H2 antagonist.

These medications will block the basic action of the histamine (which is nothing but a chemical that stimulates the cells in the stomach producing acid) on the acid manufacturing stomach cells. This will easily reduce the acid production and will even reduce the symptoms to a great instance. For example, ranitidine (Zantac), cimetidine (Tagamet), and famotidine (Pepcid) are some of the examples of the Histamine H2.

You can even try the H2 blockers and the proton pump inhibitors. These are easily available in the OTC without using a prescription. But there could be certain potential interactions while taking with certain prescribed medications. You need to check and consult with your pharmacists and health care professional for advice with regard to their safe use.

Another medication you can try is the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These are another basic kind of drugs which can block the acid production of your stomach. The PPIs consists of rabeprazole (Aciphex), omepraxole (Rapinex, Prilosec), lansopraxole (Prevacid), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium).

Heartburn Surgery

If the medications and the treatment don’t cure your heartburn, then you really need to try other options and one of them is surgery. But keep in mind that not everyone can opt for surgery. Surgery is the only solution for patients –

  • with Barrett’s esophagus
  • for whom the intensive medical therapy never gives the required and adequate relief
  • With reflux which is quite severe and that causes pneumonia, hoarseness and even sometimes wheezing.

There are various surgical approaches for the esophageal reflux and they are easily available. In the fundoplication, the stomach is simply wrapped around the lower esophagus and this will easily create and bring in new physiologic valve to go to the lower esophageal sphincter.

There are brand new devices which have easily approved and they can be quickly wrapped around the lower esophagus which is the basic link to the LES. Now this is a specific procedure and is based on the situation or the condition the patient is.

Do You Know Heartburn Caused Acid Reflux Disease?

Not many people are aware that sometimes heartburn can cause acid reflux diseases. Some of the basic symptoms of the acid reflux are –

  • Bloating
  • Regurgitation – a bitter or sour tasting acid that often remains at the back of your mouth or throat.
  • Heartburn – which is a discomfort or burning pain that moves from your stomach to your abdomen or the chest and even sometimes to your throat.
  • Burping
  • Black or bloody stools or
  • even bloody vomiting
  • Hiccups which won’t go
  • Dysphagia – which is narrowing the esophagus and this creates the unwanted sensation of the food getting stuck in your throat.
  • Losing weight for no reason.

Heartburn is a common symptom or you can say a common medical condition (GERD) and it affects to about 20% of the US population. There are various therapies which can assist in limiting the production of stomach acids and change in lifestyle which can cure the heartburn but ultimately you need to consult your doctor or physician before taking any step.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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