Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart; rather, it is related to acid indigestion and is usually not a cause for concern beyond discomfort or fleeting pain. People who experience recurring heartburn may require medication or dietary changes to reduce the amount of stomach acid retreating into the esophagus. A bitter or sour taste often accompanies heartburn.
Pain in the chest and possibly the throat are the most common signs of heartburn. Often, people find belching or drinking a glass of cold milk or water relieves these symptoms. Although milk may offer temporary relief by neutralizing stomach acid, it can also stimulate further acid production. In the long run, this can make the symptoms worse. If the pain continues or recurs often, it is best to speak to a doctor about other treatments or to explore other causes.
Heartburn pain lasts for several minutes to several hours, depending on the gastrointestinal health of the person, and the factors that contributed to the event. Someone who has a weak lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus, is more likely to experience prolonged heartburn. A weak sphincter is less effective at keeping stomach acid out of the esophagus.
The foods and drinks that set off a heartburn attack vary from person to person. Some of the most common culprits are alcohol, spicy foods, citrus fruit, tomatoes, chocolate, and drinks containing caffeine. These substances lower the pressure at the esophageal sphincter that guards against acid backtracking from the stomach into the esophagus. If someone regularly gets chest or throat pain after consuming a specific food or drink, it is likely a trigger for them.
Heartburn pain often occurs after bedtime if a person eats a large meal and goes to bed shortly after. This scheduling gives the stomach too little time to digest the meal before lying prone. The position makes it easier for acid to wash back into the esophagus because it no longer needs to fight gravity to do so. This particular trigger can be avoided by leaving at least two hours between consuming food and going to bed.
Overeating or overdrinking is a common cause of heartburn, especially when the foods and drinks in question are known triggers. People who eat too much of a food that irritates the stomach, or consume it too quickly, may have heartburn afterward. Likewise, a person who skips breakfast and lunch and eats a heavy dinner is more likely to experience heartburn.
Not only do different people experience different severity of heartburn symptoms, but the same person may also experience variations in severity depending on many factors. People with existing health concerns involving their gastrointestinal system are likely to experience heartburn more severely, and it may fluctuate depending on the current state of their condition. A person with recurring heartburn who does not have a diagnosed medical condition should see a doctor.
Heartburn is the primary symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Studies show that the likelihood of heartburn due to GERD increases in people with other health issues. Asthma is one of the best-known examples. People who are overweight, obese, or pregnant are also more likely to experience heartburn.
Many heartburn patients notice an unpleasant sour or bitter taste in the mouth during a heartburn episode. The regurgitated stomach acid backing up into the esophagus is the cause of both this symptom and the burning sensation at the back of the throat. Sometimes, more acid enters the esophagus than the tract can handle, and the liquid moves higher, into the throat and mouth.
Smoking is another activity that can prompt episodes of heartburn. Inhaling cigarette smoke often prompts the swallowing of air, as well. This swallowed air relaxes the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve responsible for preventing acid from backing up out of the stomach. Smoking also increases the production of stomach acid, thereby worsening symptoms. It can also damage the lining of the esophagus.
Anti-inflammatory medications can cause heartburn by irritating the stomach lining. Antidepressants and other medications can relax the lower esophageal sphincter that keeps acid in the stomach. If a person believes their medication is causing their heartburn, he or she should speak to a doctor about changing the dosage or prescription.
Get our exclusive heart health guide for free when you join our newsletter.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.