The term ‘heartburn’ is misleading as it has nothing to do with the heart. Since, sometimes, heartburn causes symptoms that are similar to a heart attack; it has earned the moniker of heartburn.
When there is a reflux of acids from the stomach into the esophagus- the tube that joins the throat and the stomach, the resulting sensation is known as heartburn. The pain is just under the breastbone or in your chest. The pain rises and may often even reach the jaw. It usually gets worse during the evenings, when bending over and when lying down. Apart from the pain, other symptoms include a bitter taste in the mouth that may appear acidic and foul.
Causes of Heartburn
There could be many reasons why heartburn happens. Sometimes, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscular valve between the esophagus and the stomach, doesn’t function properly. In normal cases, it opens up to let in food or to let out burps. Sometimes, it may open more frequently than necessary or not close properly, allowing the stomach acids to flow into the esophagus. These acids cause the burning sensation that we associate with heartburn.
- Overeating is one important factor that causes the opening of the LES. Obesity, pregnancy, and constipation may also cause heartburn as all these conditions put pressure on the stomach.
- Certain foods increase the production of stomach acids or cause relaxation of the LES. Tomatoes, citrus fruits, onions and garlic, caffeinated products, alcohol, and chocolate are the usual culprits.
Managing Heartburn: What is the Timeline?
Heartburn could last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the person’s body chemistry. It is very common in pregnant women. When heartburn happens occasionally then it is not much of an issue. Most folks who suffer from heartburn can improve the situation with lifestyle changes and through over the counter medications. But when it is a recurring problem, it may interfere with your day to day functioning and could be a cause of worry. A recurrent heartburn is known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This can lead to more problems like:
- A cough that doesn’t seem to cure
- Ulcers of esophagus
- Barrett’s Esophagus
- Esophageal Cancer
Consult a Doctor
Seek an appointment with your doctor if:
- You suffer from heartburn more than twice a week
- You are facing difficulties in swallowing
- Over the counter medicines don’t seem to make any difference
- You have persistent vomiting or nausea
- You have suffered weight loss due to a low appetite or because you are facing difficulties in eating.
Tips to Cure Heartburn
- Wear loose clothing
- Sip apple cider vinegar mixed with water. Apple cider vinegar has an alkalizing effect on the body and therefore it balances out the excess acid.
- Sip on ginger tea. Ginger soothes the heartburn. Make it a part of your food by adding it to the gravies and stir-fries.
- Have a mixture of baking soda and water as even baking soda has an alkalizing effect on the body. The stomach acids get neutralized providing relief.
- Elevate your upper body to reduce the passage of acids into the esophagus. Propping oneself on a few pillows might not help if you have heartburn. One has to move the body from waist up.
- Chewing gum reduces the acidity in the stomach as it dilutes the acids because of saliva.
- If you are overweight, lose the excess pounds as the fat around the belly puts pressure and the stomach acids get released.
- Did you check your medication? Some medicines cause heartburn.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is another reason why many people suffer from heartburn.
- High-impact exercises also contribute towards heartburn. Switch over to lesser impact exercises to get the situation under control.
- Drink cold milk which helps to neutralize the heartburn causing acids. Having ice cream also helps. If you are not susceptible to cough and cold and if the weather is conducive, you could eat ice cream.
- The age-old remedy of having buttermilk to soothe heartburn still holds true. It reduces the lactic acid in the stomach.
- Almonds are another great option to reduce heartburn. They neutralize the stomach acids and act as a preventive measure.
- Lack of sleep is another contributing factor towards a raging heartburn.
- Bananas and apples have natural antacids that fight acids. Eat a banana as soon as you feel a heartburn developing. To prevent overnight reflux from developing, have a few slices of apple before sleeping.
Lifestyle Changes to Managing Heartburn
Those who suffer from heartburn but have no other serious complications attached to it- they can cure their condition by tweaking their lifestyles a bit.
- Regular exercise has shown tremendous improvements in those who suffer from heartburn regularly.
- Limiting the fat intake. Fatty and fried foods are known offenders that cause severe heartburn. Reduce their presence in your diet to improve your condition.
- Avoid eating just before you are heading to the bed. Don’t slouch or recline while eating. Sit up straight to ensure reduces heartburn.
- Avoid trigger foods that cause heartburn. Limit your intake of caffeine, sugar-heavy products, chocolates, soft drinks, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
- Quit smoking. Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Getting a review of your medicines from a doctor in case you feel they could be causing heartburn.
- During pregnancy, heartburn and indigestion are the usual complaints. To reduce the feeling of discomfort, eat five to six small meals instead of three large ones. Walk around and stay upright after having your food. It is best to avoid fat rich and spicy foods.
- Keep handy antacids, proton-pump inhibitors, and histamine-2 blockers. Note that these have side effects so don’t have them too often.
Heartburn can be caused by many factors. Find out the underlying cause and try to treat it. Lifestyle changes usually bring relief in most cases. If they don’t, consult your doctor.