Heartburn occurs once stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. As a result, it causes an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest that can radiate up to the throat and neck. This can be accompanied by a sour or bitter taste in the back of the mouth. In most cases, an episode of heartburn lasts for a few minutes up to several hours and often feels worse after eating.
Heartburn can be relieved with the help of over-the-counter antacids. As for cases that are recurrent and severe, it might indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that requires further care by the doctor.
Symptoms of heartburn
- Burning sensation in the chest area behind the breastbone that occurs after eating and lasts for a few minutes up to several hours.
- Burning in the throat
- Chest pain or discomfort after lying down, bending over or eating
- Difficulty with swallowing
- Sour, salty or acidic taste at the back of the throat
- Feeling that food is “sticking” in the middle of the throat or chest
What are the causes?
There are various factors that can lead to heartburn or make it worse.
- Eating large amounts of food and eating close to sleeping time
- Certain foods such as chocolate, onions, high-fat foods, peppermint, spicy foods, tomato and tomato-based products, spicy foods and garlic.
- Drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, citrus juices and carbonated beverages
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking, stress, overweight and wearing tight or constricted belts and clothes
- Health factors such as hiatal hernia, pregnancy, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and certain medications such as aspirin and some anti-inflammatory drugs
When to consult a doctor
Even though heartburn is considered prevalent, it can oftentimes lead to a serious health issue. Severe cases have been linked to narrowing and inflammation of the esophagus, chronic cough, respiratory issues and Barrett’s esophagus. The following requires an appointment with a doctor:
- The symptoms of heartburn become frequent or severe
- There is difficulty or pain while swallowing
- Evident unexpected weight loss
- Using over-the-counter antacids for more than 2 weeks and still no improvement with the symptoms
- Serious hoarseness or wheezing
- Symptoms are present even after using prescription or over-the-counter medications
- Discomfort disrupts with daily activities
Management of heartburn
- Avoid going to bed with a full stomach. It is recommended to eat meals at least 3-4 hours before lying down in bed so that the stomach is given time to empty and reduces the risk for heartburn.
- Avoid overeating by reducing the portions at meal times or eating 4-5 small meals instead of the usual 3 big meals throughout the day.
- Eat in a steady manner.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- It is best to avoid foods and beverages that trigger the symptoms. The individual should note down the foods that trigger the discomfort.