Heartburn is a common condition that occurs in people of all ages, no matter the gender. This condition affects the esophagus, the tube connecting your stomach and throat, and it occurs when stomach acid retreats back up the esophagus. Stomach acid breaks down food for digestion. It doesn’t typically harm your stomach lining because the stomach can withstand the damaging effects of the acid. Unfortunately, the esophagus is not able to do so, so if left untreated, heartburn can really wreak havoc on the important tube.
As previously mentioned, heartburn occurs when stomach acid refluxes up the esophagus. In many cases, heartburn is also caused by a weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When this happens, the LES relaxes, making it easier for stomach acid to travel up the esophagus.
Many other factors can increase your stomach’s production of acid or trigger heartburn, including the following:
A lack of sleep and too much stress can also increase how much acid your stomach produces on a given day, which increases your chance of heartburn.
For many people, common heartburn symptoms include the following:
Typically, symptoms are more common after meals, lying flat, or leaning forward for a prolonged period of time. If left untreated, recurrent heartburn may result in inflammation and irritation of the esophagus. When this happens, you run the risk of developing ulcers, GERD, Barrett’s esophagus, and, in rare cases, esophageal cancer.
If you’ve been experiencing frequent instances of heartburn, it may be time to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis and to rule out other more serious chest-related illnesses. Typically, a diagnosis involves a physical exam and run-through of your medical history. In most cases, this is enough to make a diagnosis. However, your doctor may order other tests depending on your case, including:
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available to combat heartburn, and many involve making simple adjustments to your lifestyle, including:
Many people have found antacids and histamine H2 antagonists to be effective forms of treatment for heartburn. Histamine H2 antagonists block histamine, a common chemical that helps stomach cells create acid, from acting at receptor sites in the stomach. When histamine levels decrease, your stomach’s acid production decreases, lowering the frequency of intensity of your heartburn.
Thanks to the many treatment options available, including medications and making simple lifestyle changes, the outlook for heartburn sufferers is a bright one. However, if you notice your heartburn occurring more frequently than normal, you may want to consult your doctor to ensure it’s not part of a larger problem or developing into GERD.