Heartburn Causes & Symptoms

Heartburn Causes & Symptoms

Heartburn is a common condition that most people will experience at some point during their lives. Although symptoms can be uncomfortable and even painful at times, usually heartburn can be managed at home. Read on for more information about the causes of heartburn and what you can do to help alleviate symptoms.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is felt as a burning pain in the chest or throat. Heartburn often occurs when acid from the stomach escapes and rises up into your oesophagus. This can happen when the lower sphincter muscle (LES), a muscle located between your stomach and oesophagus, is weak or isn’t able to close properly. The lining of your oesophagus isn't designed to protect against stomach acid in the same way that the lining in your stomach is. Therefore, if acid comes into contact with it, you may feel pain as a result.

The symptoms of heartburn

Most people only suffer from heartburn occasionally and may be able to let it pass on its own. Others who suffer more frequently may take medication to help relieve symptoms. Apart from the obvious burning sensation at the back of the throat, there are other symptoms to be aware of such as:

  • A horrible burning feeling in the chest[1]
  • Difficulty when swallowing1
  • An acidic taste in the mouth or the back of the throat

Causes of heartburn

Heartburn can occur for lots of different reasons. Firstly, as mentioned above, a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter can often be a cause of heartburn but other reasons could include dietary and lifestyle factors.

Here are some common causes of heartburn:

The way you eat

  • Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid and with no space for it to go, pressure may cause the acid to escape up into the oesophagus
  • Eating right before you go to bed can cause heartburn because when you are lying down flat, it is easier for stomach acid to rise into your oesophagus
  • Eating in a rush or gulping down your food can mean you aren’t chewing it properly. This makes it more difficult to digest your food and to counteract this, your stomach creates more stomach acid.

The types of food you eat

  • Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach for longer because fats are slower to digest
  • Eating spicy foods can mean you are more likely to experience heartburn
  • Foods such as chocolate and mint may have a relaxant effect on the lower sphincter muscle meaning that stomach acid can easily escape back up

The types of drinks you drink

  • The bubbles in fizzy drinks may increase pressure inside the stomach[2]
  • Consuming alcohol can cause the lower sphincter muscle to relax allowing stomach acid to rise[3]
  • Drinking caffeine can increase your chances of acid reflux and heartburn
  • Citrus juices such as orange or grapefruit juice may also be a trigger as they have a high level of acidity in them

Other triggers

• Stress has been linked as a potential cause for heartburn
• Some medicines such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure may lead to heartburn as a side effect
• Being overweight can put great pressure on your stomach and can also weaken the LES3
• Similar to chocolate and mint, smoking can cause the LES to relax
• Wearing clothes that are tight around your waist and abdomen can lead to heartburn
• Hormonal and physical changes; such as the pressure of a baby on the digestive tract and stomach, during pregnancy can cause heartburn

Whilst all of these things can contribute to heartburn, the triggers and symptoms of heartburn differ from person to person.

Severe heartburn

Simply putting up with your heartburn and allowing it to go untreated may lead to other more severe issues over time. These might include:

  • Damage to your oesophagus: If stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with your oesophagus, the sensitive lining can become damaged. The acid can wear away and erode the tissue which could lead to bleeding or painful ulcers on the oesophageal lining.
  • Barrett's oesophagus: In some cases, long-term exposure of the oesophageal lining to stomach acid can lead to a condition known as Barrett's oesophagus – this is where abnormal cells develop in the lining and sometimes, these cells can potentially become cancerous.Thankfully, this is very rare.
  • Oesophageal scarring: Persistent or severe heartburn can lead to the oesophagus becoming scarred and narrowed. This can make swallowing difficult and may require an operation to correct it.[4]

How to relieve heartburn

To relieve symptoms of heartburn, or to help prevent it from occurring in the first place, you should consider the self-help tips below:

  • Cut down on portion sizes: Try eating smaller meals more frequently rather than three big meals a day
  • Avoid food triggers: Make a note of your heartburn triggers and do your best to avoid them (fatty foods, spicy foods and caffeinated drinks are some of the most common culprits)
  • Take your time: Eating slowly and chewing each mouthful carefully can help to avoid heartburn
  • Wear loose fitting clothes: Tight waistlines can put pressure on your stomach so opt for looser garments
  • Quit smoking: Cigarette smoke is known to relax the LES so you should consider quitting[5]

There are also several treatment options from your doctor, which may help in the long term. They may prescribe medication such as acid suppressants to reduce the amount of acid that your stomach produces, in order to prevent heartburn occurring.

If you decide not to visit your GP but are still looking for some kind of relief, several treatments are available over the counter. Often this is the first port of call for many heartburn sufferers. If you are looking for fast over the counter relief, why not consider Gaviscon Double Action?

Gaviscon Double Action

Gaviscon Double Action gets to work in 3 minutes. It works to neutralise the unwanted, excess acid in your stomach whilst forming a protective barrier, or raft, on the top of your stomach contents. This physical barrier helps to keep stomach contents and the acid in place.

Gaviscon Double Action can provide long-lasting relief. In fact Gaviscon lasts up to 4 hours.

Gaviscon Double Action can be purchased over the counter from pharmacies. If you follow the link below, you can find out more about Gaviscon and how it works. The whole range of products can be found here

When to see a doctor

Heartburn doesn’t need to be a long term problem. If you are concerned that your symptoms are not improving, be sure to book and appointment and visit your pharmacist or GP for more information.

All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Gaviscon Double Action for Heartburn & Indigestion. Always read the label. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.

 

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[1] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

[2] http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20443643,00.html#soda-2

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx

[4] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease/Pages/Complications.aspx

[5] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease/Pages/Treatment.aspx