Heartburn, no we are not talking about matters related to love, but a common health condition. Also known as pyrosis or non-cardiac chest pain, heartburn is the burning sensation one experiences behind or below the breastbone. It is an occasional pain and does not require one to ring the alarm bells. However, if the pain becomes frequent and starts interfering with your daily activities, then one should seek medical help.
Definition of Heartburn
Heartburn or acid indigestion is a condition where one experiences pain or burning in the chest. This sensation is felt just behind or below the breastbone. It occurs due to the irritation of the esophagus due to the stomach acid. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly or opens up often. Thus, allowing the stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. The acid causes one to experience the burning sensation as well as pain in the chest.
Heartburn occurs at least once in most of the people in their lifetime. It does not indicate any serious health issue in many. However, if experienced frequently is can be a sign of other ailments. These include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
This is a chronic condition affecting the esophagus. The stomach acid frequently enters the esophagus leading to heartburn as well as problems swallowing. This condition leads to inflammation of the esophagus, whose severity depends on the amount of acid released from the lower esophageal sphincter.
What Causes Heartburn?
As mentioned above, stomach acid reflux into the esophagus leads to heartburn. This occurs due to changes in lifestyle and diet. There are many factors that lead to this condition. These factors include:
- There are certain foods that tend to lower the sphincter. These foods include coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, etc.
- Citrus fruits, garlic, tomatoes, also lead to heartburn
- Eating a lot of food and eating immediately before bedtime also leads to heartburn
- When pressure is applied to the stomach it can lead to acid reflux. This pressure includes straining, obesity, pregnancy, wearing tight clothes, etc.
- Hiatal hernia, scleroderma, Raynaud’s phenomenon, etc. also cause heartburn
- Eating a lot of spicy foods, juices, sauces, smoking, drinking red wine, etc. also leads to heartburn
- Various medications also lead to heartburn like anticholinergics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, sedatives to cure insomnia, aspirin, etc.
Symptoms of Heartburn
A burning sensation in the chest, throat, jaw as well as arms and back may indicate heartburn. This sensation is experienced about half an hour to one hour after eating a meal. The pain worsens when one tries to lie down, sleep on the side or bend down. Other signs include:
- Chronic cough that causes hoarseness in voice or sore throat
- A feeling that the food is stuck in the chest or throat
- Sour taste or bitter taste in mouth due to regurgitation of the stomach acid
- Difficulty swallowing due to damage to esophagus by stomach acid. In severe cases, one may vomit blood due to a tear in esophagus
When To Seek Medical Help?
If one experiences heartburn more than twice a week for about 2 weeks, one should seek medical help.
Diagnosis of Heartburn
Heartburn is quite understandable by its symptoms. Thus, tests and procedures are not generally required. However, in order to understand if GERD is the cause of the heartburn or traditional methods to heartburn does not bring the symptoms under control, tests are advised. These tests include:
- Gastrointestinal endoscopy that helps the doctor see the extent of damage to the esophagus due to the stomach acid.
- X-ray of the upper digestive tract to observe the stomach, upper intestine as well as esophagus.
- Esophageal manometry to check the strength or weakness of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
- pH monitoring to check the level of acidity of the esophagus.
Treatment for Heartburn
In order to treat heartburn, one can try over-the-counter medications. Some of the medications for heartburn include:
- Antacids to reduce the burning sensation and pain
- H-2-receptor blockers that reduce the production of acid
- Proton pump inhibitors that block the production of acid and allow the esophagus to overcome the damage
Home remedies for Heartburn
There are many home care tips one can follow to prevent heartburn from reoccurring. These home care remedies are as follows:
- Avoid eating excessive spicy foods, citrus foods, chocolates, peppermint, tomatoes, sauces, etc.
- Avoid drinking excessive coffee, carbonated drinks, tea, alcohol, etc.
- Do not sleep or bend immediately after eating
- Eat meals at least 3 to 4 hours before bedtime
- Do not wear tight fitting clothes
- Obesity is one of the contributing factors to heartburn. Thus, try and lose excessive weight to overcome health issues
- Quit smoking and drinking excessive alcohol
Heartburn is not a serious condition and is easily treatable by following some home care remedies. However, persistent pain and burning sensation needs medical attention. Do not confuse heartburn symptoms as signs of heart attack and vice versa. If one experiences sudden severe pain in chest, jaw, arm and back, visit a doctor immediately.
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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 2, 2015