Health A to Z

Heartburn

Feel the burn? Read on to learn what causes it, what symptoms to be aware of, and when to see a doctor.

heartburn causes symptoms treatments

That heavy meal of rich and spicy foods may have been delicious but you might not think it was worth it afterward if heartburn sets in. Heartburn or acid ingestion is a burning sensation in the lower chest accompanied by a sour acid taste in the mouth. The feeling can last for minutes or hours and is usually worse you’re lying down or bending over.  If heartburn occurs frequently, it can lead to esophagitis, an inflamed lining of the esophagus, or be the first sign of a bleeding ulcer.

Heartburn causes Heartburn occurs when stomach acids back up into the esophagus, which can cause irritation. Certain foods can worsen heartburn, including spicy foods, tomato products, chocolate and alcohol. Smoking, pregnancy, being overweight and taking certain medications also exacerbate heartburn.

Heartburn symptoms Signs of heartburn include a burning feeling in the chest and bitter taste in the throat. If heartburn occurs more than twice a week, it may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more serious condition that occurs when the muscles at the end of your esophagus do not close tightly enough allowing the stomach contents to back up into the esophagus.

Heartburn diagnosis/tests If heartburn persists or is causing you a lot of pain, see your doctor who will check you out for the underlying cause. If you experience pain in your chest that doesn’t follow eating or drinking, it may be due to something more serious such as a heart attack or angina. If your doctor suspects that’s the case, she’ll run tests to rule out a heart condition. If your condition appears to be due to stomach acids, your doctor may want to do a barium meal to investigate; it involves drinking a liquid called barium solution which is visible on an X-ray of your chest and stomach to help pinpoint the cause of the problem. Your doctor may also suggest a procedure called endoscopy; a long tube is pushed down your esophagus to give her a better look. She may take a tissue sample to biopsy during this procedure.

Heartburn treatment Antacids provide short-term relief for heartburn by reducing the acids your stomach produces. Other medications, such as acid blockers, can also help heartburn. People with GERD may need stronger medications or surgery to reduce symptoms.

Heartburn prevention Making these healthy changes may guard against heartburn:

Avoid overeating and lose weight if you’re overweight.

Avoid smoking, fried foods, alcohol, sodas, caffeinated coffee, spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices and tomato-based foods.

Do not lie down for two or three hours after eating and avoid strenuous activity.

If you regularly experience heartburn, take an antacid before eating to avoid symptoms.

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