When individuals speak about heartburn, they may interchangeably also mention acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Acid reflux is common and often not very serious. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is the chronic form and can be quite severe and painful for those who deal with it. Triggers for an issue like heartburn vary widely, though the symptoms are all extremely similar, which thankfully makes it a relatively easy issue to accurately identify. Get the full details on the various causes of heartburn as well as what can be expected when it comes to symptoms and effective treatment now.
Slow Digestion And Metabolism
Many processed foods common in the American diet wreak havoc on the stomach and digestive system. Fatty and greasy foods lead to a relaxed LES valve, which leads to more acid making its way up the esophagus. This type of food also causes an increased production of stomach acid. Overeating can also contribute to a slower metabolism and increased pressure on the abdomen. Although slow digestion, or delayed gastric emptying, is not the most common cause of heartburn, it is more common in those with diabetes. Affected individuals can try to limit portion sizes, or have several smaller meals rather than one or two overly large meals. Eating right before bedtime can also negatively affect an individual's metabolic rate and the digestion process. Many celiac disease patients will experience heartburn if gluten has not been eliminated from their diet.
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Weakened LES Valve
Around one in four individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease have a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES) valve, which allows more frequent bouts of heartburn. The weakened LES valve is usually associated with the elderly and obese individuals. Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco also relaxes the LES valve and even stress can do the same. Carbonated beverages are also a common cause of heartburn due to the gases they contain, as these put pressure on the LES valve as well. Typically, when food is swallowed, the LES valve tightens after it is consumed, but the type of food eaten can have a significant effect on whether or not it will compress efficiently.
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Weight Of An Individual
Obesity is a common cause of heartburn due to an unhealthy diet of highly acidic and fatty food with little exercise. The added pressure on the abdomen after a massive meal almost mimics the effects of pregnancy, which includes heartburn. Weight loss and a healthy diet and exercise regiment will do wonder for those suffering from regular indigestion. Smaller portions of meals will also help diminish the effects of heartburn or reflux in the body. Pregnancy, which sees the female mother gain weight, can also cause heartburn due to the pressure in the abdominal cavity. The hormone progesterone, which relaxes the muscles during pregnancy, also relaxes the stomach valve that keeps acid out of the esophagus. This relaxed valve, along with the growing uterus, forces acid into the esophagus.
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Various Foods That Cause Heartburn
Food consumption will also considerably affect heartburn in two ways. Firstly, certain food and beverages relax the LES valve, and second, some food can make digestive juices more acidic. Common foods that cause heartburn include alcohol, citrus fruits, fatty foods (such as take-out), garlic, and raw onions. Beverages that will cause heartburn in many include coffee, fruit juice, soft drinks, and tea. Smoking tobacco is also regularly associated with heartburn and acid reflux. Stress and weight will also become contributing factors to this type of food causing heartburn. An excellent way to know if a certain food is causing heartburn is to keep a log of what has been consumed before a bout of heartburn.
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Burning Sensation In The Chest
The burning sensation in the chest is due to the acid rising from the stomach. As stomach acid splashes up into the esophagus, it creates a burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone. It often occurs after eating and can stay with affected individuals for just a few moments or perhaps hours. The sensation is often sharp and intense when individuals first experience it. Some patients have experienced these symptoms thinking it was heartburn, but it was actually a mild heart attack. The sensations are similar, so it is best to contact a doctor for clarification.
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A Sour Taste At The Back Of The Throat
The sour taste at the back of the throat is uncomfortable and not pleasing. Other sensations like this associated with heartburn include a hot, acidic or salty taste. It can be difficult for individuals dealing with heartburn to swallow as well. The stomach acid that has made it to the affected individual's esophagus can also reach the throat. An antacid effectively coats the patient's throat while alleviating the burning sensation and sour taste. In many instances, changes in diet can also be quite beneficial in neutralizing the sour taste individuals with heartburn often feel at the back of their throat.
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It Feels Like There's Food In The Throat
When stomach acid travels into an individual's esophagus, ulcers can form along the passageway. This causes a scar formation, which also known as a stricture. It makes the esophagus smaller, which can make it significantly more difficult for an affected individual to swallow. Since these scars can stick out a little bit, combined with the difficulty swallowing, individuals with this manifestation of heartburn often feel as if there is food or something else stuck in their throat. Treatment for this particular symptom is crucial, as it can affect nutrition and cause other lasting effects. Patients should consult a doctor if they are concerned about this sensation.
Keep reading to uncover what patients with heartburn often experience when they are lying down.
Burning Feeling When Lying Down
The burning sensation when individuals with heartburn lie down occurs because of stomach acid rising. The acid does not affect the stomach because of the stomach lining and its ability to resist corrosive effects. The muscular ring located within the digestive tract is supposed to prevent acid from leaving the stomach. It opens to allow food into the stomach, though it should then close to prevent any contents of the stomach from getting to the esophagus. When this muscular ring weakens, it may not close properly, which is how acid escapes. Thus, when affected individuals lie down, the acid can more easily make its way up the esophagus and even into the throat.
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Shortness Of Breath
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Radiation To The Arms And Neck
The burning sensation that occurs within a heartburn patient's body due to stomach acid can also affect their extremities, particularly their arms and neck. The arms and neck may have pain that radiates through the affected individual's left arm, shoulder, neck, or jaw. It is important for individuals who experience this specific symptom of heartburn to see a doctor. The reason for this is because although this radiation to the arms and neck can indicate heartburn, other causes include gastroesophageal reflux disease, and even more worryingly, a potential heart attack, which will require emergency attention.
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Antacids And Other Medications
There are a number of over-the-counter options to treat heartburn, including antacids and other medications. Individuals who try over-the-counter options and don't have effective results should talk to a doctor. They may give patients a medication prescription and do further testing to make sure their heartburn isn't caused by a more serious underlying condition. Antacids are medications that neutralize an individual's stomach acid, and they tend to be used for quick heartburn relief. With that said, they don't heal damage to the esophagus from stomach acid. H-2 receptor antagonist medications, otherwise called H2RAs, help reduce stomach acid, and though they don't provide immediate relief like antacids, their effects tend to last longer. Protein pump inhibitors like omeprazole and lansoprazole can also reduce an individual's stomach acid.
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Avoid Eating Large Meals And Eating Late
Individuals with heartburn should avoid eating large meals and eating late. Rather than having a huge meal, which can add too much pressure on the LES valve, they should plan smaller portions of food to consume more frequently throughout the day. It is also important for them to avoid eating directly before bed. Most doctors say individuals should consume their last meal at least two to three hours prior to going to bed, as this gives their stomach a chance to digest its contents and move them to the small intestine. This reduces the chances of patients experiencing heartburn symptoms when they lay down. Affected individuals should especially avoid eating common trigger foods, such as citrus, spicy food, and tomatoes, before bed.
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Maintain A Healthy Weight
One of the things individuals can do to help prevent or mitigate heartburn is to maintain a healthy weight. Excess fat increases the pressure on the abdomen, pushing the stomach up, which can lead stomach acid to back up into the throat. Weight loss regimens should be used after diet changes like eating heartburn-friendly foods and cutting out overeating. Depending on the patient's usual eating habits, these changes alone may cause them to lose weight. If not, patients might want to incorporate healthy exercise. In one study of ten thousand women, gaining ten to twenty pounds caused them to have three times the chances of developing heartburn.
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Don't Wear Tight Clothes
Though it may sound strange, one lifestyle change to help with heartburn can begin with one's wardrobe. Don't wear tight clothes, particularly tight-fitting shirts, dresses, or other tops. When tight clothes wrap around the abdomen, they cause increased pressure against the stomach and lower esophageal area. The pressure and constriction can lead acid to move into the chest and throat instead of remaining in the stomach. Tight-fitting pants and belts can also constrict the abdomen when they pinch the waist. Other common types of clothing to avoid are corsets, shapewear, and otherwise constraining clothes meant to flatten the stomach. Loose-fitting shirts and pants are a much better option for dealing with heartburn.
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Don't Eat Too Quickly
Individuals dealing with heartburn should never eat too quickly, as studies indicate eating fast can increase the risk of painful episodes of heartburn. In addition, researchers drew correlations between consistent fast eating and gastroesophageal reflux disease. If it isn't treated, chronic heartburn can lead to more serious problems like esophageal damage and bleeding. In one study of ten healthy volunteers, fast food consumption led to fifteen episodes of GERD, while slower eating only triggered 11.5 episodes. As for acid reflux, episodes were reported 8.5 times after the leisurely meal, but the number jumped to 12.5 times when food was consumed quickly.