Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach move in a backward motion and into the esophagus. A severe form of acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn or acid reflux is a common digestive condition which affects more than 60 million Americans at least once in 30 days, with more than 15 million Americans experiencing this phenomenon every day. There are different heartburn symptoms and signs, the most common one being a burning sensation in the chest. The feeling in the stomach radiates up to the mid-chest or throat. It may also cause a bitter taste in the back of the mouth and often lead to struggle while swallowing and in some cases, it is known to develop breathing problems too.
Occasional heartburn is quite common and does not point to anything specific. Majority of the people are able to manage the discomfort caused by heartburn by introducing certain lifestyle changes along with some over-the-counter medications. However, if heartburn is more frequent and interferes with the daily routine, it is an indication pointing to a more serious condition that requires medical attention.
Common heartburn symptoms and signs
- A burning sensation in the upper body, just behind the breastbone that starts immediately after eating and lasts for a few minutes to several hours
- Chest pain that becomes severe especially after lying down, bending over, or eating
- A burning sensation in the throat
- Consistent cramps experienced in the upper abdomen
- Dry mouth
- Gum irritation along with tenderness and bleeding
- Tooth erosion
- Pain or swelling in the throat
- Unpleasant breath because of slight regurgitation of acidic foods
- Burping or passing gas after meals
- Sometimes acid in the stomach can escape from the stomach and can make its way into the back of the throat. This leaves a hot, acidic, bitter, or salty taste in your mouth.
- The continuous and endless cycle of damage and healing after acid reflux causes scarring which in turn, causes lower-esophagus tissue to swell, causing the esophagus to narrow. This not only troubles the system but also causes difficulty while swallowing food.
- Hoarse voice
- A sore throat is one of the classic heartburn symptoms and signs
- The wheezing and coughing from heartburn can get worse and can also trigger asthma in some patients.
- Nausea that is usually felt after having a meal is an indication that it might be acid reflux.
- Production of excessive saliva
Causes of Heartburn
Several factors may lead to heartburn and make it worse. These include mainly include factors related to food, lifestyle or health or a combination of all.
Dietary habits that trigger heartburn are:
- Eating large food portions
- Eating processed foods that are high in salt, sugar, refined oils and synthetic additives
- Eating certain foods such as spicy foods, peppermint, onions, garlic, high-fat foods, chocolate, citrus fruits, and tomatoes or other tomato-based products
- Drinking alcohol, caffeinated beverages, citrus juices, and carbonated beverages
- Eating shortly before bedtime
- Frequent consumption of certain types of OTC medications
Lifestyle habits that cause heartburn include:
- Being obese or overweight
- Wearing body-hugging clothes and tight belts
- Stress and anxiety
- A sedentary lifestyle
Medical reasons that can lead to heartburn are as follows:
- A hiatal hernia where the belly starts bulging up into the chest
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Certain anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications
If new symptoms of heartburn arise more than twice a week and aren’t calmed by over-the-counter antacids, it is best to see a doctor immediately. A doctor will accurately identify the heartburn symptoms and signs. Usually, they will suggest lifestyle modifications to treat heartburn symptoms and signs. The first thing to do when suffering from regular occurring heartburn is to avoid foods that are known to trigger heartburn. For instance, if you observe that after having spicy foods, your heartburn starts acting up then you should avoid having hot ingredients altogether. Heartburn treatments also involve learning how to sleep correctly to prevent nighttime heartburn.
Sedentary lifestyle and obesity are the most common causes of heartburn. Thus it is advised to exercise regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes every day to reduce weight, inflammation levels, and also to cope with stress and improve quality of sleep. Nevertheless, it is essential to strike a balance, too much exercise can often take a toll on the immune system. You can opt for low-impact workouts like brisk walking, swimming, cycling, and jogging. Also, it is necessary to consume digestive enzymes to maintain the pH balance in the stomach. This can be done by having a tablespoon of vinegar with a very small amount of water before having meals.