Heartburn is a common condition that most people experience at some point in their lives. Heartburn is usually managed at home even if symptoms can be uncomfortable and even painful at times. Read for more information about the causes of heartburn and what you can do to help relieve symptoms.
What is heartburn?
The symptoms of heartburn
- A horrible burning feeling in the chest1
- Difficulty when swallowing1
- An acidic taste in the mouth or the back of the throat
Causes of heartburn
The way you eat
- Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid and with no space for it to go, pressure may cause the acid to escape up into the esophagus
- Eating right before you go to bed can cause heartburn because when you are lying down, it is easier for stomach acid to rise into your esophagus
- Eating in a rush or gulping down your food can mean you are not chewing it properly. This makes it more difficult to digest your food and to counteract this, your stomach creates more stomach acid.
The types of food you eat
- Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach longer because fats are slower to digest
- Eating spicy foods can mean you are more likely to experience heartburn
- Foods such as chocolates and mint may have a relaxant effect on the lower sphincter muscle meaning that stomach acid can easily escape back up
The types of drinks you drink
- The bubbles in fizzy drinks may increase pressure inside the stomach2
- Consuming alcohol can cause the lower sphincter muscle to relax allowing stomach acid to rise3
- Drinking caffeine can increase your chances of acid reflux and heartburn
- Citrus juices such as orange or grapefruit juice may also be a trigger because these contain high level of acidity in them
- Stress has been linked as a potential cause for heartburn
- Some medicines such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure may lead to heartburn as a side effect
- Being overweight can put great pressure on your stomach and can also weaken the LES3
- Similar to chocolate and mint, smoking can cause the LES to relax
- Wearing clothes that are tight around your waist and abdomen can lead to heartburn
- Hormonal and physical changes; such as the pressure of a baby on the digestive tract and stomach during pregnancy can cause heartburn
- Damage to your esophagus: If stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with your esophagus, the sensitive lining can become damaged. The acid can wear away and erode the tissue which could lead to bleeding or painful ulcers on the esophageal lining.
- Barrett's esophagus: In some cases, long-term exposure of the esophageal lining to stomach acid can lead to a condition known as Barrett's esophagus – where abnormal cells develop in the lining and these cells can potentially become cancerous. However, this is very rare.
- Esophageal scarring: Persistent or severe heartburn can lead to scarring and narrowing of the esophagus. This can make swallowing difficult and may require an operation to correct it.4
How to relieve heartburn
- Cut down on portion sizes: Try eating meals of smaller portions more frequently rather than three big meals a day
- Avoid food triggers: Take note of your heartburn triggers and do your best to avoid them (fatty foods, spicy foods and caffeinated drinks are some of the most common culprits)
- Take your time: Eating slowly and chewing each mouthful carefully can help to avoid heartburn
- Wear loose fitting clothes: Tight waistlines can put pressure on your stomach so opt for looser garments
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoke is known to relax the LES that is why you should consider quitting5
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When to see a doctor
Did you know?
- 73% of people will suffer from both heartburn and indigestion. interchangeably
- 1 in 5 people suffering from heartburn may experience symptoms every week.