Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heartburn is an irritation of your esophagus, the tube that connects your throat and stomach. This leads to a burning discomfort in your upper belly or chest.

It’s caused by acid reflux, which is when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle doesn’t close properly, letting stomach acids back up into your esophagus.

You’ve probably had heartburn, and it’s usually not serious.

If you have it often, you may have something else called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you don’t get it treated, GERD can sometimes cause problems, like:

  • Inflammation and ulcers in the esophagus
  • Hoarseness
  • Some types of lung disease
  • Barrett’s esophagus (when your esophagus is damaged by acid reflux)

Heartburn Symptoms

Heartburn feels like a burning sensation in the middle of your chest and throat. You may also have:

  • Burning pain in your chest after you eat or at night
  • Pain that worsens when you bend over or lie down
  • A hot, acidic, bitter, or salty taste in the back of your throat
  • A hard time swallowing
  • A feeling of food “stuck” in the middle of your chest or throat

How long does heartburn last?

For some people, heartburn might last only a few minutes, but for others it can last for several hours. Your symptoms should stop once the last thing you ate finishes digesting. When your stomach is empty, there are no acids to come back up your esophagus.

Heartburn Causes

Heartburn symptoms can start when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) valve at the bottom of your esophagus doesn’t close correctly.

It should stay closed to keep food and stomach acids in your stomach. When you’re eating, your LES opens so food can go into your stomach. Then it closes again. If it doesn’t close, even just a little, or if it opens when it shouldn’t, stomach acids can go back into your esophagus, causing heartburn pain.

We don’t know what causes the LES valve to weaken, but it could be caused by eating big meals too often, if you’re overweight, or you have a hiatal hernia (a hernia in your upper stomach that pushes through your diaphragm).

Heartburn Treatment

Usually, you can treat heartburn with over-the-counter medicines, including:

  • Antacids counteract the acid in your stomach to ease heartburn pain. They can also sometimes help with stomach pains, indigestion, and gas. Chewing them up really well before you swallow them might give you faster relief. If you use them too often, they can cause side effects, including constipation, diarrhea, a change in the color of your bowel movements, and stomach cramps.
  • Acid (H2) blockers like cimetidine (Tagamet) and famotidine (Pepcid) reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. They don’t work as fast as antacids, but the effects can last longer.
  • Proton pump inhibitors work to reduce stomach acid, too, and include esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and omeprazole (Prilosec OTC).

If OTC medicines don’t work for you, your doctor may be able to give you a stronger prescription version.

It’s rare, but surgery is sometimes needed to fix symptoms of heartburn. You may need an operation if:

  • Other treatments haven’t helped.
  • Your LES muscle doesn’t work properly.
  • Your heartburn is caused by GERD.
  • You have cancer in your esophagus. (Keep in mind that trouble swallowing, and not heartburn or GERD, is the most common symptom of this type of cancer.)

Heartburn Prevention

There are things you can do to prevent heartburn, including changing what and when you eat. Other changes you can make that might help prevent heartburn include:

  • Keep a healthy weight, and lose weight if you need to.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that make your symptoms worse.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day, and don’t eat late at night.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Don’t smoke, vape, or use tobacco.
  • Wait 3 hours after you eat before you lie down.
  • Elevate the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches.

Source: webmd.com



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