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Heartburn Symptoms & Prevention
Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling of burning or warmth in the chest. Often, it can be felt rising from the stomach to the chest, up through the neck. Heartburn can be an occasional or recurring condition.
With the proper understanding of its symptoms, causes, and the treatments available, you can get relief so you can get back to whatís really important and feel better about yourself!
Symptoms of heartburn, often called acid indigestion, may include:
- A burning sensation in your chest that may spread up through your arms and neck
- Pressure in the upper chest
- A bitter taste in the mouth
- Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
- Hoarseness in your voice
Heartburn tends to become more common as you get older, often starting around age 35 and becoming more frequent once you reach 50 years old. 25% of pregnant women also experience frequent heartburn.
In the simplest terms, heartburn occurs when stomach acid, used for digestion, backs up into a hollow tube called your esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a tight muscle located at the lower part of your esophagus, prevents food from traveling backward into your stomach. The LES opens to allow food to travel from the mouth to the stomach and then closes tightly. If the LES doesn't close properly, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation. The stomach actually has a special lining to protect itself from the acid but the esophagus does not have this protective barrier. If the LES does not close properly, the feeling that you most often experience is heartburn.
There are many triggers which contribute to heartburn pain:
- Food: spicy, fatty, and greasy foods, whole-milk dairy products, chocolates, peppermint, nuts, and a many other food items
- Beverages: alcohol, tomato products, citric juices, caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda), and milk
- Strenuous exercise: running, lifting weights, and many other forms of exercise can increase the pressure on your stomach and force stomach acid backward
- The position of your body: lying down or bending over, especially before your meal is fully digested
Certain medical conditions and medications: hiatal hernia, diabetes, certain blood pressure and heart medications can all contribute to heartburn pain. Consult your doctor for a full list.
- Pregnancy: the increased pressure on your stomach causes the acid to flow backward into your esophagus
There are three kinds of medicines for relief from heartburn:
Antacids work by neutralizing acid in the stomach on contact. Antacids (like Maalox®) are available over the counter and provide fast relief so you can feel better immediately.
- H2 Blockers
H2 blockers, also known as acid reducers, lessen the amount of acid produced by the stomach. By lowering the acidity released into the stomach, acid reducers can help prevent heartburn.
- Proton-Pump Inhibitors
Proton-pump inhibitors, also known as PPIís, decrease the production of stomach acid by blocking the acid-producing cells in the stomach. PPIís are taken daily and can help prevent heartburn from coming back in the long term.
Tips for Heartburn Prevention
In many cases, heartburn can be easily prevented by modifying your lifestyle to be more aware of the triggers that cause the condition.
Tips for helping you prevent heartburn include:
- Improving your diet: watch what you eat, how fast you eat, and how much you eat
- Paying more attention to your bodyís position, especially after a meal
- Donít overdo it when you exercise
- Limiting your intake of alcohol and caffeinated beverages
- Quitting smoking