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Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms, and Relief
Heartburn is a common health condition, with more than 15 million Americans experiencing it daily. Heartburn can occur for many different reasons, and it is often a symptom of other health conditions.1
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid travels up the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The stomach acid causes an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest, and it can also move up to the throat.2
Here are some symptoms of heartburn, what causes heartburn, as well as what food causes heartburn. We also share some heartburn relief tips for those who frequently experience it.
Symptoms of Heartburn
Most people who experience minor heartburn will experience a few of these symptoms.3 Symptoms of heartburn include:
- Burning in the chest
- Uncomfortable feeling in the chest after eating
- Discomfort in the chest during the nighttime
- Pain in the chest that worsens when lying down or bending over
- A bitter taste in the mouth
When to see a doctor
Occasional heartburn can be managed with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes. Severe heartburn that occurs frequently can be a sign of other health conditions such as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and pregnancy. If you experience frequent heartburn, talk to your doctor.4
If you have severe chest pain, it can be a more serious condition than heartburn. Heartburn, angina, and heart attack may sometimes have similar symptoms.5 If you experience persisting symptoms and:
- Are taking medication
- Have difficulty swallowing
- Experience frequent nausea
- Have difficulty eating
Seek immediate medical attention.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn typically occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscular valve where the esophagus meets the stomach below the rib cage, does not work properly.6
Typically, the LES holds stomach acid in the stomach where it is meant to stay. The LES should open to let food into the stomach or to allow someone to belch, and then close again. If the LES doesn’t close tightly enough or it opens too often, stomach acid can seep into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
Here are some other causes of heartburn:
- Pregnancy. Heartburn is common in pregnant women, especially in the third trimester
- Smoking. Smoking is slightly associated with GERD, which causes heartburn
- Obesity. Being overweight contributes to the risk of GERD, which causes heartburn
- Medications. Certain medications, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and blood pressure medications, can increase the risk of heartburn
- Stress. Stress can raise the amount of acid the stomach makes
- Lack of sleep. Inadequate sleep can also increase the amount of acid the stomach makes
- Hiatal hernia. When the upper part of the stomach penetrates through the diaphragm due to weakness or tear, a hiatal hernia occurs, making someone more at risk to experience heartburn
What food causes heartburn?
Certain foods can relax the LES or increase stomach acid, and commonly cause heartburn.7 Here are common foods that cause heartburn:
- Citrus fruits
- Caffeine products and drinks
- Greasy foods
- Spicy foods
Relief for Heartburn
There are many different home remedies for heartburn relief, as well as medication. Please talk to a doctor if you have questions about how to properly relieve your heartburn symptoms.4
- Antacids. This over-the-counter medicine can help neutralize stomach acid.
- Avoid eating right before bed. Give yourself 2-3 hours to digest food before sleeping to avoid the risk of heartburn.
- Mix baking soda with water. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda into water and drink it slowly. Baking soda can neutralize stomach acid.
- Watch out for trigger foods. If you eat any of the foods listed above, or if you’ve found any in particular that gives you heartburn, try to limit those foods.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can increase the risk of many health conditions, including GERD.
- Manage weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of heartburn.
Learn More Today
Now that you’ve learned the causes of heartburn as well as some relief tips, you can be better prepared if you or a loved one experience heartburn.
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Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long-term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Heartburn: What you need to know.” National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus Magazine. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://magazine.medlineplus.gov/article/heartburn-what-you-need-to-know#:~:text=More%20than%2060%20million%20Americans,experience%20heartburn%20symptoms%20each%20day.
- Young, Chris. “What You Need to Know About Heartburn.” Healthline Media, com. November 30th, 2021. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/heartburn.
- “Heartburn.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223.
- “Heartburn.” Cleveland Clinic, org. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview.
- “Heartburn or heart attack: When to worry.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/in-depth/heartburn-gerd/art-20046483.
- Sachdev, Poonam. “Heartburn.” WebMD, com. September 28th, 2021. Accessed December 6th, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/understanding-heartburn-basics.
- Seitz, Adrienne. “Which foods cause heartburn?” Healthline Media, Medical News Today. September 28th, 2020. Accessed December 7th, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/foods-that-cause-heartburn.