What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a relatively common condition; although it has nothing to do with the heart it does however cause a burning sensation in the chest. It is caused by acid reflux, which occurs when a portion of the acid found in your stomach forces its way back up the oesophagus. It's so-called because it often causes a painful feeling in the chest. If you find you have heartburn more than twice a week on a regular basis, it may be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is caused when the stomach produces an excessive amount of acid. This larger than normal quantity of stomach acid means some is able to flow back up the oesophageal tract, which causes the burning sensation and overall discomfort.
Many people will experience some form of heartburn throughout their life, there is no obvious cause of heartburn, in most cases it can be triggered by multiple things such as:
- Fatty foods (such as fried and processed foods)
- Spicy foods
- Pregnancy (This is a natural occurrence and is more common during the third trimester)
- Stress and Anxiety
- NSAID’s (Anti Inflammatory medicines like Naproxen)
- A hiatus hernia (caused when part of the stomach bulges up into the chest)
What are the symptoms of heartburn?
Heartburn is characterised by a "burning" sensation in the chest, roughly around the breastbone, and often up into the lower part of the throat. The stomach acid may cause another notable symptom in the form of an unpleasant taste in the back of your mouth. You might also encounter a degree of stomach pain.
Other, less common symptoms include a feeling of mild nausea, hoarseness in your voice, or potential bloating in the stomach. If you experience symptoms regularly, or they don't begin to naturally subside after a few days, you should seek medical attention. You will often find that the symptoms get more pronounced if you have just eaten something, if you are lying down flat, or bending over.
How can I prevent heartburn?
Heartburn is a common condition and is often attributed to lifestyle. Poor diet, for example, can often cause heartburn, due to the excessive amount of sugar, fat and salt found in junk foods. A great way to avoid getting heartburn is to have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Try to eat foods that are known to help acid reflux symptoms
What you drink can make a strong difference, too. Drinking anything acidic is going to increase your risk of suffering from heartburn - which means fizzy drinks, coffee, and citrus-heavy fruit juices are all prime causes. Where possible, substitute them with drinking as much water as you can, to dilute excess stomach acid.
It is important to know which foods trigger acid reflux so you can remove them from your diet which will help with having control over your heartburn symptoms.
There are other general lifestyle changes you can make in order to prevent your risk of suffering heartburn - for example, eating smaller meals on a more regular basis, rather than larger portions spread further apart. Heartburn can often feel worse when you're lying flat, so try lying more upright.
Cutting out alcohol and smoking, if applicable, will help ease the symptoms of heartburn, as will increasing the amount of exercise you do. If you're overweight, being able to lose some of your excess weight will help to prevent you from suffering from heartburn on a regular basis.
Simple heartburn prevention tips:
- Eat smaller and more regular meals
- Sleep with an extra pillow, so your head is in a slightly elevated position, this makes it harder for stomach acid to travel up to your throat
- Lose weight, particularly if you are overweight
- Know what foods trigger your heartburn symptoms and remove them from your diet, or eat them less often
- Try not to eat just before you go to bed
- Stop smoking
- Limit the amount of alcohol you are drinking
- Speak to a doctor if you think that certain medication may be causing your symptoms
What treatments are available?
If your symptoms are severe, you should always seek medical assistance as soon as possible - either from a GP or from a pharmacist. Your pharmacist should be able to provide you with several choices of treatment, depending on your circumstances and both the nature and duration of your symptoms.
Some common treatments include omeprazole, lansoprazole, and ranitidine. These are designed to help neutralise the excess stomach acid, which should relieve some of your other symptoms. Depending on the severity of your symptoms you may also be prescribed additional pain medication or medication to help you manage your stress levels if they're deemed to be a contributing factor to your heartburn.