Heartburn: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Tests, Management And Treatment

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Have you ever felt like your chest was burning? And does the pain feel like it originated from your heart? Then you have experienced a heartburn. This burning feeling in your chest area is caused due to acid reflux.

When the digestive fluids travel up your esophagus, it causes severe discomfort in the chest region. Don’t worry, it has no connection with your heart. Heartburn can be easily managed by modifying your diet and way of life. Tablets are also highly effective against heartburn. But if you regularly experience heartburn, despite medication, it can be a symptom of some other underlying diseases. 

Can Heartburn Be Serious? How To Get Rid Of Heartburn?

Heartburn is a common and manageable condition that can be managed with lifestyle changes and nonprescription medications. Frequent or disrupted heartburn may indicate a more severe condition requiring medical attention.

Get Rid Of Heartburn

What Causes Heartburn?

Reasons that could trigger a heartburn are:

  1. Medication: Certain medicines like painkillers (ibuprofen), contraceptive pills, and antibiotics can cause heartburn.
  2. Diet: Spicy foods, chocolate, fried foods, and sodas can trigger heartburn. Overeating can also cause acid reflux.
  3. Stress: Anxiety and doing stressful work can change hormone levels which can lead to oversecretion of acid in your stomach. High levels of acid in the stomach can cause heartburn.
  4. Overweight: Heartburn is an indicator of you being overweight. Eating fatty foods pushes your stomach to its limit. To digest the fat, the stomach will have to secret high levels of acid.
  5. Cigarettes and Alcohol: Smoking and drinking can alter the pH levels of the stomach. People who smoke and drink alcohol are highly susceptible to gastro-oesophageal acid reflux.
  6. Gas: Indigestion and other gastric problems can lead to the formation of gas in your stomach. When the gas rises through your esophagus, it can push the acid up.
  7. Ulceration and infections in the stomach.
  8. Ulcer and Inflammation in your esophagus.
  9. Damage or loosening of the esophageal sphincter.
  10. Pregnancy.
  11. Hernia.

Signs And Symptoms Of Heartburn

Pain in the chest area is the most common symptom of heartburn. This happens because your esophagus runs adjacent to your heart. Other symptoms of heartburn are:

  1. Bitter/Sour/Acidic taste in your mouth.
  2. Pain increases while you lie down or bent over: This happens because your chest is at a lower level than your stomach, causing the contents in your stomach to easily flow into your esophagus.
  3. Pain, just after you had your food.

Risk Factors Of Heartburn

Some of the things that cause heartburn and gastro-oesophageal acid reflux are:

1. Being Overweight

Continuously subjecting your stomach to the strenuous job of digesting fatty foods can backfire. Your stomach will produce more and more acid to digest its contents and this will increase the acidity levels. High acidity will affect the mucus lining of the stomach and the esophageal sphincter. Unlike the stomach, your esophagus does not have a mucus lining to protect it. Acid entering the esophagus will affect its wall and cause a burning sensation, causing heartburn.

2. Pregnancy

Your hormone levels go berserk during pregnancy. High hormone levels, coupled with medications, can cause severe heartburn and discomfort. The stomach and other organs of the mother make way for the developing fetus. This squeezing can cause acid reflux from the stomach.

3. Diet
  • If you regularly eat spicy foods, you have a high risk of having heartburn.
  • Carbonated drinks, high caffeine intake, and alcohol increase the risk of having heartburn.
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, and lime are acidic. If consumed on an empty stomach, it causes heartburn.
  • Chocolates, especially dark chocolate contain chemicals that can trigger heartburn.
  • Peppermint contains chemicals that affect the gastro-esophageal sphincter and relaxes it, leading to acid reflux.

Diagnosis Of Heartburn

Heartburn can be easily identified by the presence of pain in the chest region. If you experience chronic and recurring heartburn, it might be a sign of some other gastric disease such as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Your esophagus needs to be examined to determine the actual cause of the heartburn. Some of the tests are:

  1. Endoscopy: An endoscope is a device with a camera and light attached to its one end and is inserted into your throat to inspect the gastrointestinal tract. You have to swallow the camera for it to look at your gastric tract and its lining. An Upper Endoscopy examines your esophagus, stomach, and the starting of your small intestine. It is usually used to look for ulcerations and hernias.
  2. pH Test: The acidity levels of your gastric juices are tested. A device can be implanted in your esophagus, which can be used to record the influx of acids and take acidity readings. A probe or a chip can be used to take readings of your acidity.

Treatment And Home Remedies For Heartburn

Most of the doctors recommend lifestyle changes to reduce heartburn. Doing this can drastically lower your chances of having heartburn.

Treatment For Heartburn

But If your heartburn does not go away by following these simple steps, some treatments and remedies that you could look into are:

  1. Antacid: Aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide are antacids used to treat acidity in the stomach. It prevents the mucosal lining of the stomach and esophagus from getting destroyed. Antacid syrups also contain chemicals like dimethicone and simethicone to reduce gas.
  2. Tablets: Tablets like Omeprazole, Pantoprazole, etc help alleviate the discomfort of heartburn by reducing the acidity of the stomach. These are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux diseases (GERD).
  3. H2 blockers: They block your body’s chemicals that alert the stomach to produce more acids.
  4. Antibiotics: Sometimes heartburn can be caused due to an infection of the digestive tract, it should be treated by administering antibiotics.
  5. Surgery: Hiatal hernia (pushing up of the stomach through the esophagus, to the chest region) can be identified using upper endoscopy and treated through surgery.

Heartburn Remedies During Pregnancy

  1. Diet: Honey mixed with milk, ginger tea, almond milk, and yogurt can reduce heartburn in pregnant women.
  2. Lying position: Lie down in such a position so that the digestive juices don’t rise to your chest.
  3. Never skip meals.

Also Check:- How To Stop Stomach Burning Immediately? Tips & Remedies

The Takeaway

Heartburn is one of the common diseases that most of the people deal with. It can be significantly reduced by identifying the symptoms and treating them by following the steps mentioned above. If heartburn persists even after taking the necessary treatments, consult a gastrologist and explain your predicament.

It can be a symptom of some other life-threatening disease such as hernia. Endoscopy, followed by surgery can identify and cure almost all gastrointestinal diseases. A biopsy of the tissues from your gastrointestinal tract can be done to check for tumors or cancers. Never ignore a heartburn that lasts for more than a few days. Get it checked with a doctor.

References:

  1. Kahrilas PJ, Gupta RR. Mechanisms of acid reflux associated with cigarette smoking (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1378332/). Gut. 1990 Jan;31(1):4-10. Accessed 01/19/2023.
  2. American Heart Association. Heartburn or heart attack? (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain/heartburn-or-heart-attack) Accessed 01/19/2023.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. What to eat when you have chronic heartburn (https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-to-eat-when-you-have-chronic-heartburn). Accessed 01/19/2023.
  4. National Library of Medicine. Heartburn and GERD: Overview (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279254/). Accessed 01/19/2023.

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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