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Heartburn is a symptom of many different conditions — like acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Generally, heartburn feels like a burning sensation in the center of the chest — just behind the breastbone. This burning sensation can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. People can often treat this symptom with over-the-counter medications.
The burning sensation can spread up a person’s neck and throat. Pregnant women have been known to experience heartburn from time to time. Especially, during their third trimester or due to certain foods they eat. When a person is experiencing this symptom they can have a sour or bitter taste in the back of their throat.
A person who has GERD — a digestive order that affects the ring of muscle between the stomach and esophagus — may experience frequent acid indigestion or heartburn. Many doctors feel that people experience these symptoms due to a condition called hiatal hernia. Most GERD symptoms can be relieved through lifestyle and diet changes.
However, there are some people who require surgery or medications to alleviate GERD symptoms. According to Web MD, over 60 million adult Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. They further state that over 15 million adults encounter heartburn on a daily basis.
People can experience acid reflux-like symptoms due to angina — or chest pain which is caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart. This feeling can feel like heartburn. Those who are 50 years or older need to be more vigilant if they suddenly begin to feel acid reflux.
People who have sour stomachs after eating a meal generally take over-the-counter acid-suppressing medicine. If symptoms do not improve after a while they need to suspect gallstones. These pains can feel like cramping, sharp, or dull — usually strikes within minutes of eating.
Acid-suppressing medicines may help people who have stomach ulcers. This condition can cause a burning, gnawing sensation in the upper abdomen area. This pain can sometimes find its way into a person’s chest area. Ulcers are generally caused by a type of bacteria that can inflame the stomach lining — Helicobacter pylori. They can also be caused by bisphosphonates (osteoporosis drugs), and anti-inflammatory drugs — like naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin.
Heartburn can also occur due to a hiatal hernia. This condition occurs when a portion of the upper stomach pokes through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. A hiatal hernia can push stomach acid and food back into the esophagus — causing heartburn. Other signs of a hiatal hernia are nausea, chest pain, and belching.
People can also experience acid reflux symptoms due to their lifestyle and eating habits. For example, if a person eats a large portion of food, chowing down before laying down, or from a high level of stress. Some of the things that can cause heartburn are:
- Citrus fruits.
- High-fatty foods.
- Tomato-based products.
- Carbonated beverages.
- Citrus juices.
- Caffeinated beverages.
Even certain lifestyle habits can cause heartburn. Some of these things are:
- Being overweight.
- Tight belts and clothing.
A person can prevent most acid reflux symptoms simply by:
- Eating prior to bedtime. A person should eat their last meal between three to four hours prior to laying down. This allows the stomach to empty and reduces the chance of having heartburn during the night.
- Resist overeating. This can be achieved simply by cutting back meal portions. A person could also try to eat four to five small meals as opposed to three large meals.
- Eating food slower. A person who eats their food at a slower pace may not experience heartburn. This can be done simply by setting the fork or spoon down in between bites.
- Changing one’s wardrobe. Tight belts and clothing can sometimes cause heartburn. Changing one’s wardrobe may help to prevent acid reflux.
- Sleeping on one’s left side. This can aid in digestion, as well as, the removal of acid from a person’s esophagus and stomach more quickly.
- Lifting the head of the bed. Ensuring one’s head and chest area is higher than the feet is extremely beneficial to reducing acid reflux. One can do this by placing six-inch books or blocks under the head of the bed bedposts. Using pillows can cause more pressure on the stomach. This can cause heartburn to worsen.
- Not exercising immediately after eating. A person should wait at least two hours after eating to exercise. Working out sooner than that can make heartburn worse.
If a person has severe, chronic heartburn they should consult a doctor. This could mean a more serious condition is the problem. A doctor can run tests to exclude or pinpoint many problems.
Written by Sheena Robertson
Cleveland Clinic: Heartburn
Web MD: GERD; Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava
Fox News: 9 Serious Conditions That Mimic Heartburn; by Anne Harding
Featured Image Courtesy of Lars Kristian Flem’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License