Have you ever felt like the liquids in your stomach are running amok after you finished that last piece of pepperoni pizza? This is probably because of heartburn.
It is a burning sensation in your chest right behind your breastbone, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. This sensation arises or aggravates after having a greasy or big meal. It may also emerge in the evening or while lying down or bending over.
Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once in a month. Usually, one can treat the symptoms of heartburn at home and prevent it with a few lifestyle changes. However, if the symptoms occur more often or cause it difficult to swallow or eat, this may be an indication of a more serious medical condition.
Symptoms of heartburn are as follows:
- Burning pain in the chest that usually turns up at night and occurs after eating.
- It aggravates when bending over or lying down
- Acidic or bitter taste in your mouth
Difference between Heartburn, Acid Burn, and GERD
Heartburn is characterized by the backward flow of stomach contents into the food pipe. Acid reflux marks the actual flow of acid into the esophagus, which results in heartburn. Whereas, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a more dangerous condition, as compared to both heartburn and acid reflux. It can leave the tissue in esophagus permanently damaged. Sometimes, it can even lead to esophageal cancer.
There could be a number of causes behind heartburn.
1. Cardiac Sphincter Not Functioning Properly
Heartburn usually happens when the contents from the stomach escape into the esophagus, where the esophagus is your food pipe. All the food and fluids go via this pipe from your mouth to the stomach. The food pipe connects to the stomach at a point called cardiac or lower esophageal sphincter.
When functioning properly, the cardiac sphincter closes when food exits the esophagus and enters the stomach. If the cardiac sphincter becomes weak or stops working properly, the contents from the stomach back up the food pipe. It results in the symptom of heartburn and is known as reflux.
2. Hiatal Hernia
Another cause of heartburn is a hiatal hernia. Hiatus is the point through which esophagus attaches to the stomach. In a hiatal hernia, a part of the stomach pushes up through this opening and belches into the chest.
Heartburn becomes a common occurrence during pregnancy. In pregnancy, the progesterone hormone causes the lower esophagus to relax. It allows the stomach contents to go up the esophagus, resulting in irritation.
4. Lifestyle Choices
Your lifestyle choices or health conditions can aggravate your heartburn symptom. These include:
- Being obese or overweight
- Eating spicy foods
- Consuming caffeine, alcohol, or chocolate
- Lying down immediately after eating
- Taking medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin.
What You Can Do to Prevent It
For occasional heartburn, there are many home remedies and lifestyle changes to help alleviate the symptoms. In order to reduce or avoid the symptoms, you need to stop:
- Lying down after meals
- Consuming caffeinated drinks
- Avoid foods that trigger it
- Get rid of the lifestyle choices that cause it
- Take over-the-counter medicines like chewable antacid before the meal
- Avoid snacking late night
Avoid Foods that Cause Heartburn
Your diet plays a significant role in heartburn. While many foods help with heartburn, many have the tendency to relax the cardiac sphincter that allows the stomach content to escape into the esophagus and causes heartburn.
Here are the foods that can trigger heartburn and which you need to avoid,
1. High-Fat Foods
Foods containing high amounts of fat can cause or aggravate the heartburn symptom. You will be surprised to know that this food category includes many healthy and nutritious foods including nuts, cheese, and avocados.
Contrary to the popular belief, peppermint and spearmint can cause heartburn. A study has shown that high amount of spearmint can cause acid reflux symptoms. Another study has found that drinking peppermint tea can double the risk of heartburn.
3. Citrus Juices
Drinking citrus juices can also lead to heartburn. A study in 382 people with heartburn indicated that drinking orange juice could trigger the heartburn symptoms. In another study of 400 people with heartburn, 73 percent of participants experienced heartburn after drinking grapefruit juice or orange juice.
This may be bad news for the chocolate lovers. Chocolate is one of the most common triggers for heartburn. Just like high-fat foods, chocolate tends to relax the lower esophagus. Moreover, cocoa, the main component of chocolate, contains the ‘happy hormone.’ This hormone, better known as serotonin, has the tendency to relax the lower esophagus.
Other foods that can lead to heartburn include tomatoes, carbonated drinks, and fried foods. Avoiding these foods will bring a visible decline in the instances of heartburn.
Home Remedies to treat heartburn
Most of the times, you can treat your heartburn symptoms at home. Here are a few things that can help you avoid heartburn:
1. Take a Sip of Apple Cider Vinegar
Taking a few sips of apple cider vinegar to relieve heartburn symptom has the anecdotal evidence. However, there is a lot of scope for scientific research in this regard. One researcher has linked drinking diluted apple cider vinegar after a meal with relief in heartburn. However, the effect was not of statistical significance.
If you consider trying this remedy, dilute the vinegar with water and drink it after a meal.
2. Eat Ginger
Ginger can be found in the centuries-back folklore of relieving heartburn. Add diced or grated ginger root to your food while cooking. You can also make ginger tea by adding tea bags or dried root in boiling water.
However, drinking ginger ale as a remedy for heartburn is not a good idea. As mentioned earlier, carbonated drinks can trigger heartburn, and ginger ale is one of them. Besides, ginger ale is made of artificial flavoring instead of the real thing.
3. Take Baking Soda with Water
Baking soda is known to relieve the heartburn effectively, as it neutralizes the stomach acid. All you have to do is to mix a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it slowly. You should also bear in mind that you have to drink everything slowly when you are experiencing heartburn.
4. Elevate your Upper Body
As discussed above, lying down or bending over can aggravate the symptom. When you are on the bed, adjust your sleeping posture to elevate your upper body. Moreover, raising your head with an extra pillow is not enough. The aim here is to lift the body up from the waist.
It will become easier for you if you have an adjustable bed. You just have to set it the required angle. If you do not have an adjustable bed, you can set your sleeping posture by using a wedge pillow.
5. Stand Up Straight
Your position can contribute a lot to your heartburn symptom. If you are lying down or sitting, consider standing up. If you are standing already, try straightening up a little more.
An upright posture alleviates pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
6. Chew Gum
There is ample evidence that chewing gum for half an hour after meals can relieve heartburn. Chewing gum is effective in relieving heartburn because it stimulates swallowing and saliva production. That helps dilute and clears stomach acid from your food pipe.
7. Loosen Clothing
When you are experiencing heartburn, loosening the clothes a little can help a lot. Tight clothing compresses your stomach and aggravates the symptom further. You can try lessening your pants belt, or whatever clothing you think can put pressure on your stomach.
8. Avoid Overeating
Large meals worsen the heartburn symptom. When the pressure increases on the LES, which is already weakened or dysfunctional, it further aggravates the condition by compressing the stomach more.
9. Lose Weight
If you have excessive belly fat, it will exert pressure on the LES. It will push it upward, and the valve will be free from the diaphragm’s support. Diaphragm’s support plays a vital role in keeping the LES intact. If this support is removed, the lower esophagus will relax.
10. Avoid Raw Onion
A study has shown that eating a meal containing raw onion aggravates heartburn, acid reflux, and belching, as compared to the same meal devoid of onion.
More belching points out that more gas is produced after consumption of meal with raw onion due to extravagant amounts of fermentable fiber.
Moreover, raw onions also irritate the lining of the esophagus, the organ that is already troublesome. Thus, it worsens the heartburn.
If the home remedies are not working out for you, consult a doctor. He/she will review your medical history and inquire you about your condition. You may need to undergo specific tests like X-ray of abdomen or stomach or endoscopy to check for irritation of the lining of the stomach or that of the esophagus. You may also need to have a pH test to check how much acid your esophagus contains at the moment.
After the diagnosis, your doctor will provide you with suitable treatment options to help eliminate or relieve your symptoms. Medications for the treatment of occasional heartburn include H2 receptor antagonists like Pepcid or Zantac, antacids, and proton pump that blocks acid production like Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix, and Prilosec.
However, these medications have certain side effects. Antacids lead to diarrhea or constipation. Also, tell your doctor regarding all the medications you have been taking before to avoid any drug interactions.
Prevent Heartburn from Occurring At the First Place
A number of home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle changes can provide relief in heartburn. However, some adjustments regarding your daily habits can eliminate the risk of developing heartburn entirely. These changes in habits include:
- Avoid heartburn triggers like spicy and fatty foods.
- Avoid lying down after eating
- Eat at least three hours before going to bed
- Keep a healthy weight
- Instead of taking two or three large meals, eat smaller, more frequent meals. It will leave a good impact on your digestive system along with helping with the heartburn.
Nevertheless, if you undergo heartburn more than two or three times a week, go to a doctor. The doctor may prescribe you medication or other treatments.
When to See a Doctor
Although occasional heartburn is not something to worry about, you should consult a doctor if the home remedies are not working or if the instances of heartburn exceed two times a week. This may be a sign of a more serious condition.
Heartburn usually occurs with other gastrointestinal diseases like ulcers, i.e., the sores in the lining of esophagus and stomach. In fact, heart disease is one of the telltale signs of acid reflux.
Go to your doctor if you have
- pain with swallowing,
- difficulty while swallowing
- shortness of breath
- tarry, dark, or bloody stools
- pain radiating from your back to shoulder
- sweating while having chest pain
Symptoms of heartburn and heart attack are very similar which is why many people confuse both conditions. If you are having a heart attack, you will experience:
- crushing chest pain
- jaw pain
- arm pain
- difficulty breathing
If you are experiencing the symptom frequently, you may have a serious health issue requiring immediate treatment. Moreover, in case you do not get treatment for serious heartburn, you will have more serious health problems like inflammation of the esophagus, also called esophagitis.
Esophagitis causes the lining of the esophagus to change, which increases your risk of esophageal cancer. Moreover, frequent, unattended heartburn can impact your day to day life, Go to the doctor of this symptom is disrupting your routine.
Heartburn is a common condition that can be easily treated at home. While it is not to be worried about, it still requires attention if occurring frequently. The main reason it is not to worry about is that it does not leave any damage to your esophagus. Moreover, it only requires healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, and a good posture to be alleviated. You may have to take a few medications to relieve the symptom, but most of the times, it goes away with a few home remedies.