Heartburn is a common term that is used by many people to describe a condition of their upper gastrointestinal tract. Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Many people mistake it to be same with the GERD or acid reflux. However, heartburn isn't the disease actually; it is only a symptom of some other diseases or conditions, of which GERD is the most common one.
What is even more difficult is to understand what actually heartburn is all about and how it feels like. Many people fail to realize what heartburn feels like and thereby, do not identify the condition. This can delay in the treatment and also in the identification of its exact cause.
How Does Heartburn Feel Like?
Heartburn is a condition that actually feels like a burning sensation and pain, behind the breastbone or right in the middle of the chest. In many cases, the pain or burning sensation is also felt in the throat or neck as well as in the upper abdomen.
The pain or heartburn sensation is the worst:
- After you have taken a meal
- When you bend over
- When you lie in a reclining position.
There is also a bitter taste in the mouth or in the throat.
When you have heartburn, you will experience a difficulty or pain while swallowing. There will be shortness of breath and the stools will be bloody, dark and tarry. A mild chest pain and a dizzy feeling are almost always associated with heartburn.
What Could Be Causing Heartburn?
As already mentioned, heartburn is a symptom of certain difficulties and troubles in the abdominal cavity, especially the upper gastrointestinal tract inside the body. There are a number of triggers or factors that can lead to heartburn. Before going into these triggers, the mechanism of heartburn must be understood.
- Mechanism of Heartburn: At the bottom of the oesophagus, there is a ring of muscle known as lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) that acts as a valve of the tract. This valve opens only in one direction so that the food that enters stays inside the stomach. It makes sure that the stomach acids do not flow back into the oesophagus.
However, sometimes due to some reasons, this valve or the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) muscle becomes weak. Therefore, it opens up and the stomach acids leak into the oesophagus. This is the reason why there is a burning sensation. Hence, it can be said that the main reason behind heartburn is this condition of weak lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, medically referred to as Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
- Triggers of Heartburn: There are many factors that contribute to the heartburn problem. The most significant ones of them are –
- Too much of Foods in the Stomach: In simple terms, overeating is a prominent cause of heartburn. In that case, it also needs to be mentioned that there are certain foods that are more likely to relax the lower esophageal sphincter and these include –
Meals that contain these ingredients in a high quantity or are rich in fat and oil can often trigger the heartburn problem.
- Certain Medicines: Just as certain foods make the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle weak, certain medicines too can do so. These medicines include aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen etc.
- Stress and Lack of Sleep: When the body is stressed and does not get enough of rest, it contributes into production of more acid in the stomach. Therefore, a feeling of heartburn is associated with stress and lack of sleep.
- Smoking as a Trigger of Heartburn: One of the most important causes of heartburn is smoking. Smoking can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle. Therefore, the stomach acids can frequently come upwards and cause the sensation of heartburn.
- Pressure on the Stomach: Many people do not realize this, but along with eating too much and constantly having the stomach work, there is yet another problem that can trigger heartburn and that is putting pressure on the stomach. If you are obese, your body weight puts a pressure on the stomach. Hence, obese people are more likely to suffer from heartburn.
In that case it must also be mentioned that pregnancy is yet another condition in which a pressure is put on the stomach, leading to acid reflux and heartburn.
How is Heartburn Treated?
Heartburn can easily be treated by the doctors. The doctors will identify the cause of the condition and prescribe medicines that will help in preventing the acid reflux. Simple and easy reforms in the eating or dietary habits as well as the daily routine can contribute hugely to the treatment. You must not overeat or eat too frequently. Eating in small portions, less oily and fatty foods can help a lot. One more thing that must be kept in mind is that you should not go to sleep immediately after eating. The reclining position leads to the opening of the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle and the stomach acids can go up, causing the chest and throat experience a burning sensation from inside.