Heartburn - Causes, Symptoms and Its Remedies

Stomach has a mechanism of breaking down food material with stomach acid. Acid in stomach mostly consists of hydrochloric acid, a strong chemical produced by the gastric glands and parietal cells that line the stomach. Heartburn is mainly due to regurgitation of acid content from the stomach to esophagus (the food pipe. The muscle tube connecting the mouth to the stomach, the oesophagus (or gullet), can occasionally malfunction, pushing acid upward. Normally, the esophageal sphincter, a unique muscle valve located where the oesophagus and stomach converge, ensures one-way passage from the esophagus to the stomach. It opens when you eat to let food into the stomach, but it should stay tightly closed the rest of the time to prevent the contents of the stomach from coming back up.

When the contents of the stomach, including food and gastric secretions, reflux back up into the oesophagus due to valve malfunction (permanently or temporarily), acid reflux happens causing heartburn and can lead to ulcers that can be extremely painful if it is severe and lasts for a long time.

Moreover, acid reflux is not brought on by excessive stomach acid; rather, it is a result of acid travelling in the incorrect direction. Excessive intake of fried foods, alcohol, smoking, and lack of exercise, can affect heartburn. However, these are not the only factors; but these are simply avoidable.

Causes of heartburn

  • Obesity
  • Anxiety and tension
  • Smoking
  • Eating excessively or too rapidly
  • Lying down too soon after eating
  • Consuming certain foods, such as those high in fat or spice, carbonated drinks, alcohol, peppermint, citrus, tomato-based goods, and caffeine
  • An underlying medical problem
  • A medicine you're taking can induce acid reflux and heartburn

Heartburn symptoms

  • A stinging pain behind the breastbone in the chest
  • You feel a burning agony moving up toward the throat
  • A sour or bitter flavour in the tongue

Some remedies for heartburn

  • Eat a ripe banana: A banana is a somewhat alkaline food because of its high potassium level, which may help prevent the oesophagus from becoming irritated by stomach acid. On the other side, unripe bananas are less alkaline, higher in starch, and in some people, they can even produce acid reflux. Ensure to select a ripe banana. Melons, cauliflower, fennel, and other alkaline foods may also reduce heartburn
  • Chew sugar-free gum: Gum chewing causes more saliva to be produced. Since saliva can encourage swallowing, which can help keep acid down, and neutralise stomach acid that has refluxed into the oesophagus, doing this can help alleviate heartburn
  • Keep a food journal and avoid trigger foods: As previously noted, specific meals and beverages can cause heartburn and acid reflux. By maintaining a food and symptom journal, one can easily identify the precise items that are most likely to cause the problem. Once you've identified them, try the best to stay away from these meals and beverages
  • Resist the urge to overeat or eat quickly: Being mindful of the mealtime portion sizes can help prevent heartburn. Large amounts of food in the stomach may increase pressure on the valve that prevents stomach acid from entering the oesophagus, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux and heartburn. Consider eating more frequently and in lesser portions if you frequently have heartburn. Heartburn can also be brought on by hurried eating, so be careful to chew the food and beverages thoroughly
  • Avoid late meals, snacking before bed and eating before exercising: A full stomach when lying down might cause acid reflux and aggravate heartburn symptoms. To give the stomach enough time to empty before night, avoid eating three hours before going to sleep. You might also want to wait at least two hours before exercising
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: If you frequently experience heartburn, wearing clothes that squeezes the abdomen and tight belts may be to blame
  • Adjust the sleep position: While you sleep, elevating the head and chest above the feet can help prevent and relieve acid reflux and heartburn. Piling pillows often isn't useful and might potentially exacerbate the problems, so avoid doing it. Additionally, it is believed that sleeping on the left side may help with digestion and may lessen acid reflux
  • Take steps to lose weight: Being overweight increases the strain on the stomach, raising the risk of heartburn and acid reflux. The first two most essential steps to keeping a healthy weight and decreasing extra weight are eating a well-balanced diet and exercising 150 minutes per week
  • Stop smoking: Smoking decreases saliva production and affects the efficiency of the valve that prevents stomach acid from entering the esophagus, which increases the likelihood of heartburn. Giving up smoking may reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux, and in some cases, even cause it to disappear
  • Reduce stress: The body suffers physical effects from chronic stress, including slowed digestion and increased sensitivity to pain. Stomach acid reflux is more likely to occur the longer food is allowed to rest in the stomach. Additionally, increased pain sensitivity may intensify the excruciating agony of heartburn. Taking steps to reduce stress can help prevent or manage reflux and heartburn
  • What to do if heartburn is severe or frequent?

    If you frequently experience heartburn, talk to the doctor before taking heartburn medications on a regular basis because these medications can interact with a wide range of other medications and have an impact on any underlying medical disorders you may have.

    Consult the doctor if you experience persistent or worsening heartburn despite taking measures to alleviate it. Heartburn can occasionally be a symptom of an underlying illness, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or peptic ulcer disease.

    Dr. Manik Sharma
    Department of Gastroenterology
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