What Is Heartburn? Its Symptoms, Causes & Prevention
Doctors diagnose heartburn as a pain in the center of the chest, behind the breastbone. This pain can worsen following eating in the evening or when lying down or bending. This burning feeling moves from the chest to the throat, bringing a sour and acidic taste to the back of the throat. It is a common condition that can last from a minute to a few hours and needs treatment to prevent worsening.
Categories of Heartburn
The different types of heartburns, based on their cause and severity, are as follows:
During summer outings, oily and fried food intake increases, leading to acid production.
During the third trimester, the increased pressure on the stomach can result in digestive problems.
This type occurs when lying down in one position at night, leading to the relaxing of the sphincter that makes acid flow in the esophagus easier.
This heartburn attacks 2-3 times a week and is severe
What are the causes of heartburn?
The most common cause of heartburn is when acid in the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) has a muscular valve where the esophagus and stomach meet below the rib cage.
Usually, the LES maintains normal stomach acid with the help of gravity, where it should be, that is, in the stomach. When LES is working right, it opens to allow the entry of food into the stomach and then closes again. However, if the LES opens too frequently or doesn't securely shut completely, stomach acid can go into the esophagus resulting in a burning sensation.
The most common problem causing the loosening of LES is overeating or pressure in the stomach due to pregnancy or obesity.
What are the symptoms of heartburn?
The symptoms of heartburn may include:
- A burning pain in the chest, usually after evening meals.
- Discomforting pain while lying down or bending.
- An acidic or bitter taste in the mouth.
- Difficulty in swallowing.
How is heartburn diagnosed?
Regular heartburn may signify gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The following tests can help diagnosis of heartburn:
Esophageal motility testing (esophageal manometry):
Ambulatory acid probe test (esophageal pH monitoring):
Patients are given a solution, known as barium suspension, that coats the lining of the upper gastrointestinal tract and helps the doctor see the issues in their digestive system.
A tiny camera on a flexible tube is placed down into the throat giving a clear view of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
A catheter into the esophagus measures the pressure and movement of the esophagus.
It monitors the heart's activity to check if the heart is the cause of the heartburn symptoms.
In case of unusual symptoms, the doctor may recommend a 24-hour esophageal pH probe study to test how long the acid remains backed up in the stomach.
What are the complications associated with heartburn?
Usually, heartburn interferes with day-to-day life but isn't a dangerous problem. However, continual unchecked heartburn can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to severe issues such as:
- Prolonged coughing.
- Ulcers or inflammation of the esophagus.
- Difficulty in swallowing because of a narrow esophagus.
- Barrett's esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer.
How to treat heartburn?
Most patients can treat heartburn with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medicines. A few over-the-counter treatments and remedies for heartburn are as follows:
Proton pump inhibitors:
These medications help decrease the acid level in the stomach by neutralizing it and relieving the pain. However, they can't heal the damaged esophagus due to the acid reflux issue.
These medications help decrease the acid production in the stomach and relieve acid indigestion. Example: Omeprazole.
These medication types reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. They may help with the symptom of acid indigestion—examples: Cimetidine (Tagamet HB) and famotidine (Pepcid AC).
Persons experiencing daily heartburn should take medications only after consulting their doctor.
What can be done to prevent heartburn?
For mild cases, doctors regularly recommend lifestyle changes to prevent heartburn issues.
Some other ways to avoid heartburn are as follows:
Avoid sleeping on a full stomach:
Maintain a healthy weight:
Avoid heartburn trigger foods:
Maintain a comfortable head-level height:
Get enough sleep.
Sleep on the left side:
Drink enough water:
Consume meals at least 3 to 4 hours before going to bed to prevent the production of acid overnight.
Consume less food in one meal sitting. Split small meals at intermediate intervals throughout the day. For example, eat small regular four to five meals instead of three large meals.
Always masticate adequately and don't swallow bites to finish eating quickly, as it may lead to indigestion and heartburn.
Obesity can lead to heartburn conditions
Nicotine can lead to the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter.
Proper exercising can help relieve heartburn. However, exercising soon after meals can trigger heartburn. People with heartburn can exercise after 2 hours after a meal.
People can do this by keeping a meal log about the foods that cause heartburn.
Keep the head level 6 to 8 inches above when lying in bed by keeping the head and chest higher than the feet.
It can help to eliminate acid from your stomach and esophagus quickly and improve digestion.
Dehydration can cause heartburn. So it's essential to drink adequate water throughout the day.
How do people live with heartburn?
People with heartburn must change their diet and eating habits by regularly logging and managing the variations. Most people with heartburn must split their meals throughout the day and eat well in time (3 to 4 hours) before bed. They also must exercise regularly to prevent heartburn. If and when they experience heartburn, they usually take over-the-counter medicines as prescribed by their doctors.
Heartburn is a mild condition, but if not treated correctly and at the right time can lead to severe conditions, such as inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus or respiratory problems. Most people can be rid of this condition to lead a healthy life with the correct treatment and lifestyle changes. Consult our best gastroenterologist in Hyderabad if you experience heartburn symptoms.