What causes heartburn?

What causes heartburn?

There are several unique varieties of what is considered heartburn, and several key factors that contribute to the condition. Most often, heartburn refers to the sensation of heat that ranges from just below the sternum to the back of the throat.

The most common cause of heartburn is regurgitation of stomach acids. Many patients who suffer from heartburn are subsequently diagnosed with GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease).

The Mayo Clinic website states that although "acid reflux and GERD are closely related, the terms aren't necessarily interchangeable". Identifying the exact nature of a case of heartburn should be left to a patient's primary care physician or gastroenterologist.

The mild cases of occasional acid reflux are usually triggered by highly acidic foods, high fat content, spicy foods, alcohol, food eaten in large quantities and certain spices. Dorland's Medical Dictionary cites a burning sensation as the most common complaint of those suffering from occasional heartburn and GERD.

Occasional acid reflux can be treated with a number of over-the-counter remedies. Proton pump inhibitors, antacids, milk of magnesia and H-2 receptor blockers (like famotidine) are all available without prescription at most grocery stores and retail pharmacy chains.

Aside from medication, there are some lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. One obvious conclusion drawn by patients and those treating them is the manipulation of diet to control flare-ups, esophageal spasms and acid reflux.

With diet directly linked to instances of heartburn; eliminating foods that seem to be triggers can help temper the condition with some immediacy.

Since nicotine is often cited as a trigger for heartburn, smokers reporting symptoms should stop for relief. It's widely known that smoking comes with a slew of negative health consequences, so it is likely that a heartburn patient's well-being would improve in many areas if they were to cut out tobacco. Maintaining a reasonable weight is another effective practice for reducing heartburn.

In terms of physical activity and sleep, heartburn can be avoided and somewhat controlled a number of ways. It's wise for sufferers of GERD or occasional heartburn to remain upright for at least 2 hours after eating. Lying down within a couple hours of a meal allows digestive acids to easily irritate the esophagus.

At bedtime, according to the American Gastroenterological Association, patients should sleep on their left side. This prohibits acids from easily escaping the confines of the greater stomach. During waking hours, refraining from tight-fitting belts, slenderizing undergarments and anything pressing on the abdomen will have a positive effect on the frequency of occasional heartburn.

All sufferers are urged to keep a journal of episodes to effectively draw conclusions as to what is triggering flare-ups of the condition. It's always important to consult a physician if problems persist with heartburn.

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Symptoms and Treatments for Heartburn and Acid Reflux in Children


Antacids can help ease heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, but before giving to a child, consult their pediatrician. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
Antacids can help ease heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, but before giving to a child, consult their pediatrician. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Find out how to recognize heartburn symptoms in children, which starts with acid reflux, and how to treat it before it leads to more serious complications.

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