Heartburn is a very common term that you’re guaranteed to have heard before. But what is it, what causes it, and how did it get that strange name?
Well, despite its’ name, heartburn doesn’t actually have anything to do with the heart itself, so you can rest assured in knowing that it’s not a life-threatening condition. Heartburn got its’ name due to the fact that it is often described as a burning sensation in the vicinity in which the heart is located.
In many cases, heartburn occurs when a problem arises with the muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter. The lower esophageal sphincter is responsible for keeping acid in your stomach. For example, when you eat food, it opens to allow the food into your stomach, but then it closes again. This means the valve is working as it should. However, if the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close tight enough or tends to open too often, this can allow stomach acid to move into the esophagus, which causes that burning sensation that Dr. Ali Ghahary mentioned previously.
There are many different scenarios that can result in the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. A common scenario is overeating. It can also be the result of obesity, constipation, or even pregnancy. Sometimes heartburn is also caused by certain trigger-foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), onions, garlic, peppermint, chocolate, coffee and alcohol. These foods can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to become relaxed and lead to an increase in stomach acid. Other contributing factors to heartburn include smoking, stress, and a lack of sleep.
For many people, heartburn is not an everyday occurrence. However, there are some individuals who may suffer from chronic heartburn, and if left untreated it can lead to complications such as damage to the esophagus, an increased risk of esophageal cancer, and even tooth decay.
To avoid heartburn, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends avoiding any known triggers. It’s also important that you not go to bed immediately after eating. Allow your stomach at least 3 hours to digest the food that you’ve consumed before lying down. Maintaining a healthy weight can also decrease your risk of chronic episodes of heartburn. Along with these and other lifestyle changes, patients may also require medication. Dr. Ali Ghahary generally recommends taking some kind of antacid (such as Tums) for quick relief. If your heartburn is more severe and you find that there is an increase in stomach acid, you may require a prescription for an H2 blocker or Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI).