Heartburn is a warm, burning sensation that is usually felt under the breast bone and upper abdomen. The wave of irritation starts from the chest area and gradually moves towards the throat. The feeling is more prominent after eating, when the person is lying down, or if the individual is in a bent position. It can also feel like there is food stuck in the chest or throat while swallowing. It is very common among pregnant women. Heartburn once in a while is normal, but frequent heartburn may be the symptom of a more complicated condition and can lead to serious health issues later on in life.
Digestive acids in the stomach are usually kept in position by a valve in the lower part of the esophagus, at the region where it opens into stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter. The valve opens while food passes from the esophagus to the stomach and then closes. Once in a while, due to different reasons, the valve opens frequently or does not close tightly. This allows the stomach acid to move into the esophagus causing a burning sensation in the chest. Occasional heartburn can be treated by over-the-counter medications, small changes in lifestyle, and simple home remedies. If you get the feeling very often, so much so that it affects your daily activities, it is time to meet with a physician. Frequent heartburn is the symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. This may lead to serious complications at a later stage.
The major causes of heartburn are overeating and too much pressure in the stomach, both of which affect the functioning of the esophageal valve. Certain medications and foods that have a high oil and fat content are known to cause heartburn. Stress, improper sleep habits, and smoking are also major triggers of this sensation.
Simple changes in the lifestyle can alleviate the symptoms of heartburn:
- Avoid going to bed immediately after eating – Always have food at least two hours before going to bed. This helps in digestion, and the acid levels also reduce, decreasing the chances of it regurgitating back into the food pipe.
- Have smaller portions of meals – Avoid having large portions and over eating, instead go for smaller portions of meals at regular intervals.
- Look out for heartburn triggers in foods – Try to avoid foods that may trigger heartburn. This includes caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and high-fat fruits.
- Lose weight – Loss extra weight and get into that optimum body weight range. This helps to reduce the symptoms of heartburn.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking – Alcohol and smoking are the most common triggers of this condition.
- Use comfortable-fitting clothes – Tight-fitting clothes increases pressure on the abdomen and the valve. This may result in acid regurgitation.
- Keep your head at an elevated position while sleeping – Keeping the head at a raised position helps gravity to prevent the flow of stomach acid into the food pipe.