Also known as acid indigestion or pyrosis, is a burning sensation in the chest,
just behind the breastbone or in the epigastrium. It
happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries
food from the mouth to the stomach.
The pain of heartburn often rises in the chest and may affect the neck, angle
of the jaw, or the throat. Heartburn pain is often worse
when lying down or bending over.
Each and every one has had this sensation, and, an occasional heartburn is nothing to be worried about. Most people can manage heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. However, if it happens more often, so much that it may interfere with a person’s daily routine, it may be an indicator of a much more serious condition. In these cases, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible.
Normally, when a person swallows, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes to let the food flow down into the stomach. Then it simply closes again. Once in the stomach, stomach acid digests the food. This acid is very strong and can damage most parts of the body. However, the stomach is protected by a special mucous layer. The esophagus does not have any such special protection. If the lower esophageal sphincter does not close completely, if it relaxes abnormally or weakens, the lower part of the esophagus can be damaged by stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus. When this happens, heartburn may be experienced.
Symptoms of heartburn include: a burning painful sensation in the chest that might occur after eating or at night; and pain that worsens when bent or lying down.
It happens to everyone from time to time. However, if one has heartburn frequently, they might have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is a serious condition. This is why it is important that one consult a doctor as soon as the first symptoms have presented themselves.
Getting Rid of Heartburn
a few things a person might do to prevent heartburn. These include:
- Losing any excess weight. Excess fat around the stomach may put extra pressure on the stomach and actually force food and stomach acid back up through the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Antacids and surgery may provide relief from heartburn and prevent it from turning into more serious disease.
- Staying upright after a meal for a couple of hours. In this way, gravity helps the food stay in the stomach long enough to be properly digested and sent on its way.
- Eating smaller portions. Too much food in the stomach may push up against the lower esophageal sphincter hard enough to open it. This is why one should try and limit their portions.
- Avoiding certain foods. Some types of food are known to increase the irritation of the esophagus. These are: spicy, acidic, fatty, carbonated food, etc. Also, alcohol, caffeine and especially, tobacco smoke might relax the lower esophageal sphincter, so it is a good idea to stay away from them.