What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is that burning feeling in your chest or esophagus, usually occurring after a big meal or at night. It actually has nothing to do with your heart. In fact, it occurs when stomach acid goes up into your esophagus.
What are the symptoms of Heartburn?
- Burning in the esophagus, chest, or below/behind the breastbone
- Burning sensation in the throat or difficulty/pain with swallowing
- Waking up at night with severe discomfort
What causes Heartburn?
Heartburn can be caused by:
- Weakened esophageal sphincter
- Hiatial hernia (stomach partially protrudes into lower part of chest)
- Eating certain foods like fatty or spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, onions, acidic foods like tomatoes or oranges, and carbonated beverages
- Eating meals that are too large
- Not waiting long enough after a meal to lie down
- Smoking cigarettes
How is Heartburn different from GERD?
Heartburn happens to most people occasionally. It is not considered a disease. However, it can be a symptoms of a disease called GERD. If you suffer from heartburn more than twice a week, you might have GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
What causes GERD?
The cause of GERD is not fully understood, but there are certain factors that contribute to a greater risk of developing GERD:
- Being over weight puts a lot of extra stress on the body, which can cause the esophageal sphincter to weaken.
- Pregnancy also puts stress on the body, with similar results.
- People who smoke cigarettes tend to have a higher risk of GERD because smoking relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Asthma and GERD may be related, but it is not totally understood how.
- Gastric outlet obstruction also can cause heartburn. This happens when scar tissue blocks the exit between the stomach and intestines. Food builds up, causing acid to reflux into the esophagus. This condition usually has other symptoms, like vomiting, inability to eat, weight loss, and pain in the abdomen.
- Nerve or muscle malfunction and certain medications can also result in food staying in the stomach too long.
- Disorders involving connective tissues can disrupt normal muscle function within the stomach, causing acid reflux.
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a very rare syndrome where the body produces too much stomach acid.
When should I seek Medical Advice?
You should seek medical advice if:
- You get heartburn two times per week or more
- Your heartburn comes back after the antacid wears off
- You wake up at night with heartburn
- Heartburn persists, even with medication
- You have difficulty swallowing
- You vomit blood or a black substance
- You have black stools
- You have unexplained weight loss