The term heartburn can be misleading at times as it has nothing to do with the heart, even though it contains the word 'heart'. The symptoms of heartburn may appear to be like the symptoms of heart diseases. It is also referred as acid indigestion. Chronic or regular long lasting heartburn takes the form of gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What Does It Mean When You Have Heartburn?
Heartburn is basically a type of irritation in the inner lining of the food-pipe or esophagus. The irritation occurs as the acid from the stomach rises up to come in contact with esophagus. Various types of acids are produced in stomach to help in the digestion of food. This acid when rises up leads to heartburn. There is small valve like structure located at the lower end of esophagus called lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that restricts the acid in stomach to rise up against gravity. It opens momentarily to allow the food to pass down to the stomach but closes quickly to block the reverse movement. In the case of acid reflux, the LES or lower esophageal sphincter is unable to lock the acid efficiently into the stomach, allowing some of it to rise upwards into the esophagus. This is the main reason for acid reflux. Occasionally, acid reflux may be caused by indigestion leading to excess production of acid in stomach.
What Causes Heartburn?
The main factor that causes heartburn is the improper functioning of lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If this lid is not tight-enough, it allows the food to rise above from the stomach back into the esophagus. It can also occur due the excess pressure in the stomach that forces the lid to open. The excess pressure may be caused by constipation, obesity or even pregnancy. Diet becomes an important parameter that can help in controlling or making symptoms worse. Food items that are rich in oils and fats can lead to acid reflux. Some medications may also disturb your digestive system to cause heartburn. Poor lifestyle such as lack of sleep, stress, lack of body movement can also contribute to heartburn. People who smoke regularly are at increased risk of heartburn as smoking relaxes LES, allowing the acid along with food to rise up. Good diet that contains antacids such as coffee, garlic, onions, citrus fruits tomatoes etc. are very helpful in preventing or managing the symptoms of heartburn.
Heartburn is not a disease but a prominent symptom of Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Pain due to burning sensation in the food-pipe just below the breast bone is a clear case of heartburn. The location and type of the pain can even make you think that you are having a heart attack. Usually, the pain in the case of heartburn is restricted to lower esophagus but sometimes it may even be felt in the throat if the acid rises too high. This type of acid reflux can be more harmful as it can cause tooth decay by attacking the enamel layer over the teeth. If there is a frequent case of acid reflux, you must seek advice of your doctor. Taking large meals also contribute to heartburn. Lying flat just after having meal can often make the acid to rise up into the esophagus.
It is very important to identify the cause of heartburn in your case and take necessary steps to get rid of it. It can lead to various complications in long term, if not treated in time. If the acid is allowed to rise up regularly or frequently, there are chances of ulcer in stomach. It also increases the risk of cancer in esophagus due to chances in the structure of cells.
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