What is heartburn?

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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?

Chest pain or discomfort after lying down, bending over or eating

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
  • Vomiting
  • 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.

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