Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest, behind your breastbone or in your upper belly, and may be mistaken for the pain of a heart attack. It can be a symptom of a few different conditions, with the most common being acid reflux, when stomach acid is pushed up your intestinal tract and irritates the oesophagus, since its lining is more sensitive than that of the stomach. The other more severe condition is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), and can be considered a more severe and chronic acid reflux.
Other than the burning sensation characteristic of heartburn, you may also have a bitter and acidic taste that feels hot at the back of your throat, and may find it difficult to swallow. Though occasional heartburn is common and isn’t something to be too worried about, if it lasts for long and sustained periods, we recommend you visit an Internal medicine specialist.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, and it’s accompanied by other symptoms like a persistent dry cough, asthma, or clear signs of dental damage due to the presence of excess acid in the mouth, you might have GERD.
There are a number of different potential causes of GERD:
- Obesity: The pressure from the excess weight causes stomach acid to be pushed up.
- The consumption of alcohol, and smoking
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and pressure placed by the baby on the stomach increase acid reflux
- Reduced functionality of the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LOS/LES). The LES separates the oesophagus from the stomach, and if it weakens or is unable to close properly, stomach acid can make its way out and up. Causes of this include hernia, and weakening due to medications such as antihistamines.
Ways you can reduce heartburn
Heartburn can be mitigated in a number of ways. A lot of these involve changing your lifestyle and monitoring your diet, but medication is also an option. For the occasional occurrence, antacids are common drugs that can be used to reduce heartburn, doing so by neutralising some of the acidity of stomach acid. However, if this does not work, and your heartburn is frequent, you might have to take some more drastic steps.
Alcohol and Smoking
Both of these relax the LES and makes it more likely for stomach acid to rise up the oesophagus, so reducing their intake could help immensely. Alcohol also increases stomach acid production and makes the oesophagus a lot more sensitive to it, so regulating its consumption is highly recommended.
A lot of foods can aggravate heartburn by relaxing the LES and increasing stomach acid production, such as peppermint, garlic and chocolate. Being aware of the more egregious proponents of acid reflux can help you come up with a diet plan that will help reduce its frequency. We also recommend avoiding foods high in fats and oils.
There are other factors that could aggravate your heart burn such as stress and side-effects from other medications you may be taking, so simply changing your diet and lifestyle may not help. If your heartburn persists despite trying these things, or you feel you have accompanying symptoms that seem to signal GERD, you should seek out a physician immediately. We suggest an Internal medicine specialist in Karachi, or any that are more convenient for you.