Heartburn Health Summary
Heartburn is a symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn symptoms include a burning feeling in the chest, hoarseness, chronic cough, sore throat, and more. Treatment for heartburn include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, and if necessary, surgery.
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Heartburn Overview

Heartburn is an uncomfortable but common feeling of burning or warmth in the chest. Although the pain of heartburn is felt in the chest, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Instead, heartburn is caused by stomach acid.

Continual bouts of heartburn can be a symptom of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Frequent or severe heartburn may limit daily activities and lead to further complications such as ulcers in the esophagus.

Heartburn is a common symptom in most people. The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that more than 60 million people in the U.S. experience heartburn at least once a month, and more than 15 million people may experience symptoms daily. More than 50% of pregnant women have heartburn or related symptoms.

Heartburn Causes

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Food swallowed travels from the mouth to the stomach through a hollow tube called the esophagus (or food pipe). Before entering the stomach, food must pass through a tight muscle at the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The lower esophageal sphincter prevents food from traveling backward into the esophagus.

Once in the stomach, stomach acid digests the food. This acid is very strong and the stomach is protected from its own acid by a special mucous layer. The esophagus does not have this special protection. If the lower esophageal sphincter does not close completely, the lower part of the esophagus can be damaged by refluxing stomach acid. When this occurs, heartburn may be experienced.

The lower esophageal sphincter may not close completely allowing stomach acid into the esophagus for these reasons:

  • Certain foods and drinks loosen the lower esophageal sphincter. These include chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated beverages (such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks), fatty foods, and alcohol.
  • Heartburn often depends on the body's position. It is easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, if a person is lying on the back, on the right side, or bending over.
  • Anything that increases the pressure in the abdomen, forcing stomach acid backward into the esophagus, can cause heartburn. Lifting, straining, coughing, tight clothing, obesity, and pregnancy can worsen heartburn.
  • People with certain medical conditions have an increased risk of heartburn. These conditions include: hiatal hernia, diabetes, gastroparesis, and many autoimmune diseases (CREST syndrome, Raynaud's phenomenon, and scleroderma).
  • Many prescription medications can loosen the lower esophageal sphincter, including blood pressure and heart medications, and the asthma drug theophylline.
  • Many substances directly irritate the lining of the esophagus and contribute to heartburn. These include spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato sauces, cigarette smoke, aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil etc.), and medicine prescribed to treat osteoporosis.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/21/2014

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10 Home Remedies for Heartburn

You can use these simple, quick home remedies to ease mild heartburn (acid reflux) without medication, even if you're pregnant.