Occasionally, if you ever ate something greasy or spicy and your chest felt like it was burning, then you might experience heartburn.
You may have experienced a common condition called heartburn. Even if you feel its name and the pain in your chest, you will find relief in knowing that it has nothing to do with the heart. We looked at what is heartburn, why it occurs, its common symptoms and triggers and what you can do to prevent heartburn.
- If you feel a burning sensation in your chest after eating, it may be heartburn.
- Fatty foods take longer to break down in the stomach so often the symptoms of heartburn are caused by these foods.
- Mild heartburn is very common and most healthy people experience it from time to time.
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What is heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when your stomach produces too much stomach acid. This corrosive fluid can leak into your oesophagus and irritate your throat. Unlike your stomach, there is no protective mucus coating in the oesophagus.
Because stomach acid is so strong, the burning sensation you feel is acid, i.e. it burns your oesophagus. Hence causing the name “heartburn”.
Why does heartburn occur?
Heartburn goes by many names – you may also know it as acid reflux or acid indigestion. This is a burning or tingling sensation that occurs when the contents of your stomach rise into your oesophagus (oesophagus).
Mild heartburn is very common and most healthy people experience it from time to time. This will help us to understand why heartburn occurs and to think about how the oesophagus and stomach work.
There is a ring of muscle that meets the oesophagus and stomach (lower oesophageal sphincter). It relaxes to allow food into the stomach and tightens to prevent stomach contents from going back up into the oesophagus.
Strong acids in the stomach help the digestive procedure to break down food. Even though your stomach is built to withstand this acid, your oesophagus is not.
If the oesophageal sphincter is weak or rested in its absence, the contents of the stomach can move into the oesophagus and cause pain, irritation and ascites. This backward flow is called reflux and the burning chest pain is called heartburn. Lying down or bending may make heartburn worse, as the acidic stomach contents may travel further down the oesophagus.
How do I handle this?
If heartburn only occurs when you eat certain foods, the easiest solution is to avoid those foods. Usually, heartburn is caused by chocolate, coffee, tea, sour fruits, greasy foods and spicy foods. You can take tummy tuck or other antacids.
However, if your heartburn persists and happens more than a few times a week, it may be time to think about seeing a doctor.
Acid reflux and GERD
You may have heard of acid reflux and GERD. Although GERD is a severe form of acid reflux the two are the same condition. People with acid reflux or GERD experience persistent heart burn.
These conditions require monitoring and treatment. If left untreated, acid reflux can lead to oesophagal ulcers and cancer.
Other contributing factors
Other conditions can cause you heart burn. For some, stress and anxiety can trigger acid reflux. There may also be reasons such as drinking too much alcohol, being pregnant or being overweight. If you do not know what heartburn is, talk to your doctor. He/she can prescribe medications that reduce or prevent the production of stomach acid.
Endoscopy may also be recommended to see how much damage the acid has done to your oesophagus. The last thing you want to do is ignore heart burn!
Prevention and management of heartburn
There are several things you can do to help reduce your experience of heartburn. First, make sure your daily diet is based on a variety of foods from each of the five food groups recommended by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Includes vegetables, fruit, whole-grain bread and cereals, lean meats and meat substitutes and reduced-fat milk and non-dairy substitutes.
For an idea of how to get balance and type in your daily diet, check out these sample diet plans for men and women.
Eating small, frequent meals can help prevent heartburn. By not filling the stomach, stomach acid is less likely to rise in your oesophagus. Choose healthy foods and remember how much you eat throughout the day.
Try eating your last meal a few hours before bed. This gives you enough time to empty your stomach and may reduce your experience while lying in bed.
Fatty foods take longer to break up, which is why cardiac burn symptoms are often triggered by these foods. Consider ways to prepare a diet that lowers the amount of fat. For example:
- Instead of deep or shallow frying, use low-fat recipes such as steam, grilling or lightly pan-frying.
- Arrange the fat from the meat and select the thin slices.
- Choose low-fat dairy products.
If spicy foods are a stimulus for you, use small amounts of spices or look for other ways to make delicious food like fresh or dried herbs. Similarly, if you experience heart burn with other specific foods, consider ways to change your favourite healthy diet to avoid those triggers.
Having a healthy weight or keeping it healthy can help reduce your heartburn experience if you are currently smoking.
Most Frequently Asked Questions
What does heartburn feel like?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable or real pain caused by the movement of digestive acid into your stomach (oesophagus). The usual features of heart burn are as follows: It starts as a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and moves to the chest.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid retreats into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (oesophagus). Usually, when you swallow, the muscle group (lower oesophagal circulation) around the base of your oesophagus relaxes to allow food and fluid to flow into your stomach.
Can heartburn be any serious symptom?
Heartburn can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s oesophagus and a very small number of individuals with oesophagal cancer. GERD is present if a person has reflux more than twice a week. In addition to the symptoms described above, cough, asthma and laryngitis may also be symptoms of GERD.