What is heartburn? What helps with heartburn?
Heartburn is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest, usually after eating or at night when lying down. This discomfort is caused by stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.
The main cause of heartburn is a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the stomach and the esophagus. When this valve doesn’t close properly, stomach acid can leak into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation. Other factors that can contribute to heartburn include certain foods and beverages, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and certain medications.
The symptoms of heartburn can vary from person to person, but the most common ones include a burning sensation in the chest, a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and a feeling of food getting stuck in the throat. These symptoms can be mild or severe and can last for a few minutes to several hours.
Fortunately, there are several ways to alleviate heartburn and prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are some helpful tips:
1. Avoid trigger foods and beverages: Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some individuals. These include spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. It is best to identify your personal triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
2. Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Instead of having three large meals a day, try eating smaller portions more frequently. This can help reduce the pressure on the LES and prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
3. Avoid lying down after meals: It is recommended to wait at least two to three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed. This allows enough time for the stomach to empty and reduces the risk of acid reflux.
4. Elevate the head of your bed: Raising the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches can help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while you sleep. This can be achieved by placing blocks under the bedposts or using a wedge-shaped pillow.
5. Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, which can push stomach acid up into the esophagus. Losing weight, if necessary, can help alleviate heartburn symptoms.
6. Quit smoking: Smoking weakens the LES and increases the production of stomach acid, making heartburn more likely to occur. Quitting smoking can have numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of heartburn.
7. Avoid tight-fitting clothing: Wearing tight clothes, especially around the waist, can put pressure on the abdomen and increase the risk of heartburn. Opt for loose-fitting clothing to reduce the pressure on your stomach.
8. Chew gum: Chewing sugar-free gum after meals can help stimulate saliva production, which can neutralize stomach acid and reduce the risk of heartburn.
9. Use over-the-counter antacids: Antacids, such as Tums or Rolaids, can provide temporary relief from heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid. However, they should not be used as a long-term solution, as they can interfere with the absorption of certain medications.
10. Consider medication: If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter antacids do not provide sufficient relief, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers. These medications work by reducing the production of stomach acid and can provide long-term relief from heartburn.
In conclusion, heartburn is a common condition characterized by a burning sensation in the chest. It is caused by stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus due to a weak LES. By making certain lifestyle changes and avoiding trigger foods, heartburn can be managed effectively. If symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment options.