What is Heartburn?

Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, but is still unpleasant and, if frequently occurring, has potential to do long-term harm. It occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus, and its misnomer comes from the burning sensation in the chest many patients experience.

When experienced occasionally, heartburn is usually unpleasant but harmless. People experiencing this sort of occasional heartburn may often successfully manage symptoms with over-the-counter medication and may even identify and avoid foods that trigger symptoms.  If heartburn occurs frequently and interferes with daily life, the patient may have a more serious condition that requires medical attention, such as GERD.

Heartburn symptoms may last a few minutes or for several hours. Common symptoms may include:

  • A burning sensation behind the breastbone that usually starts shortly after eating

  • Chest pain that worsens when bending over, lying down, or eating

  • Burning or a bad taste in the back of the throat

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • The sensation that food is getting stuck in the chest or throat

Though occasional heartburn itself is usually harmless, the symptoms may be easy to confuse with symptoms of much more serious problems. For instance, many of these symptoms are also common when experiencing a heart attack. If the pain is severe or worrisome, do not assume it is heartburn but instead seek medical attention, favoring the side of caution. Seek immediate medical assistance if any of these symptoms are accompanied by shortness of breath, pain in the arm, shoulder, or jaw, or another other common heart attack symptoms. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have experience heartburn two or more times a week, over-the-counter remedies do not reduce symptoms, or you experience persistent nausea. These symptoms may indicate a chronic problem that needs treatment.

Common food triggers include spicy foods, tomato products, onions, citrus products, alcohol, fatty foods, peppermint, chocolate, or even excessive amounts of any type of food. Overweight people and pregnant women are at an increased risk of experiencing heartburn. Avoiding known triggers is the most effective treatment for occasional heartburn, but wearing loose clothing, waiting at least three hours after eating to lie down, and elevating the head of one’s bed may also prevent heartburn from getting started. Once symptoms occur, sufferers of occasional heartburn may find relief in over-the-counter medications.


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