Do you suddenly feel a burning sensation behind your chest? You may have a heartburn, a common condition that usually manifests as a pain coming from the stomach and extends to the neck and the throat. It usually gets worse when bending over or lying down. It helps to know that a heartburn is not a serious medical condition that you should be highly concerned about. Most of the time, we all experience a heartburn sometime in our life. This condition is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This occasional burning or painful sensation that is felt along the breastbone is normal, but when they occur more persistently, it may signify a more serious condition.
What happens during a heartburn
The food we eat will normally pass from the mouth and into the stomach through the esophagus. The esophagus is composed of muscles that will rhythmically push the food down from the mouth to the stomach where they will be digested. Foods will combine with acids and enzymes in the stomach during digestion. In some cases, the acid may reflux back into the esophagus, and it can cause a sudden inflammation or damage to the unprotected esophageal lining. The condition is called as heartburn because the acid reflux will usually cause a burning sensation as it travels from the stomach back to the esophagus, which is located at the neck/throat.
Causes of a heartburn
Our food intake may cause a heartburn. The most culprits of an acid reflux are caffeine, alcohol, acidic drinks/juices, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, fatty foods, chocolates and foods that contain high acid content like pineapple, grapefruit and orange. Certain medications can also increase the risk of getting a heartburn. Well known drugs that can cause an acid reflux are beta blockers, birth control pills, anti-depressants, calcium channel blockers, anticholinergics, and sedatives. Obesity can also cause pressure on the stomach that can encourage the acid reflux to occur. Certain conditions can also weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, such as smoking and the presence of a hiatal hernia.
When to see a doctor
A heartburn is not a serious condition and normally occurs once in a while. However, you may need to see a doctor in case it occurs more frequently, such as a twice a week and you experience some swallowing difficulty. Make a doctor appointment immediately when your heartburn symptom is accompanied by wheezing, nausea and vomiting. If you are taking any medication, it is best to discuss its safety with your doctor and learn whether it can put you at risk to an acid reflux.
Although a heartburn may not be a serious cause of concern, when it happens all the time you will likely damage your esophagus and this may result in complications. There are things that you can do in order to prevent it from happening.
- Avoid common triggers for heartburns, such as foods and drinks that can make you susceptible to an acid reflux.
- Modify your eating habits. It is best to eat smaller meals to allow the proper digestion of your food intake, and avoid physical activities after eating. Avoiding eating food at least 3 hours before bedtime will also help prevent acid reflux.
- Do not wear tight clothing that can compress your stomach. They can force the food to reflux into the esophagus.
- Avoid sleeping flat on the bed. Lie down with the head slightly raised over your body in order to prevent the food from refluxing back into the esophagus.
- Take a medicine that will help neutralize the stomach acid, such as antacids.
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