A person with heartburn may have various medical conditions, including GERD and acid reflux. It feels like an intense burning behind your breastbone, right in the centre of your chest. The duration of heartburn can range from a few minutes to a few hours. The symptoms are often treated at home with over-the-counter medications.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that can transmit to the throat and neck. This can signify various health conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux, or pregnancy.
If you have heartburn, you may also experience a bitter or sour sensation in the back of the throat. Heartburn symptoms might last from a few minutes to several hours. These usually feel worse after eating or while lying down too soon after eating.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburns develop when stomach acid backs up into the oesophagus, the tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach. When we swallow, a set of muscles around the lower esophageal sphincter becomes relaxed, allowing food and drink to flow down into the stomach.
If the lower esophageal sphincter weakens or relaxes abnormally, stomach acids can flow back (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid flow back can get severe if you are bent over or lying down.
What are the symptoms of heartburn?
Here are some signs and symptoms of heartburn:
- A burning feeling or a feeling of warmth
- Chest pain that gets worse while bending over or lying down
- Sour taste in the mouth
In most cases, heartburn is not a serious condition. The doctor may advise you to avoid certain foods or take over-the-counter medications such as antacids to reduce pain. The condition, however, can also be a symptom of a more serious digestive disorder if it occurs frequently.
Can I prevent heartburn?
Making dietary and lifestyle changes can often help to avoid and manage heartburn. These changes include:
Avoid going to bed with a full stomach
Take at least three to four hours before going to bed, which allows the stomach to empty and reduces the possibility of overnight heartburn.
Reducing the size of meal portions can help reduce the risk of heartburn. You can replace four or five small meals with three larger ones. Additionally, eating slowly can often help prevent heartburn.
Wearing loose-fitting clothes
Tight clothes can sometimes cause heartburn. Wearing loose-fitting clothes might be able to prevent it.
Avoiding certain foods
Certain foods are known to cause heartburn in many people. Avoiding fried or spicy foods may be helpful. The doctor may also advise you to avoid alcohol.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Weight loss can help to relieve heartburn.
The lower esophageal sphincter might become weakened by nicotine (the valve that separates the stomach and oesophagus). The strength of this valve and overall general health benefit from quitting smoking.
Sleeping on your left side
Doing this might speed up the acid removal from the stomach and oesophagus and aid digestion.
Planning your exercise to avoid heartburn
After eating, you should wait at least two hours before exercising. You risk causing heartburn if you exercise sooner. Additionally, you should drink water before and during exercise. Dehydration should be avoided.
GERD may be diagnosed if the heartburn is more severe and affects your daily life (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease). If left untreated, GERD can severely harm your oesophagus or result in Barrett's oesophagus, which is a precancerous abnormality in the oesophagus. Treatment for GERD may need medications, surgery or other procedures too.