What is heartburn?
Despite its name, heartburn doesn’t involve the heart at all. When stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of a person’s esophagus, it irritates the area. We call the burning and pain associated with this contact heartburn.
The discomfort caused by heartburn can be felt from the diaphragm all the way up to the person’s throat. Since the pain can be felt in the chest region, some people confuse the symptoms with those of a heart attack. (If you start feeling chest pains, don’t assume that it is “only” heartburn. The best course of action is to go to the hospital to find out for sure.) Symptoms of this condition can also include a sour taste in the mouth and the very unpleasant feeling like food is re-entering the mouth.
It’s very common for people to have heartburn, at least occasionally. You can consider yourself to have a mild case of heartburn if you feel these kinds of symptoms once a month or so. If you get to the point where you are feeling lousy after eating once a week, then you are looking at a moderate case of heartburn. Some people, though, experience this type of discomfort on a daily basis. At that point, this is considered a severe case.
Causes Of Heartburn
The acids in a person’s stomach need to be present to help with digestion. As long as they stay there, the person feels fine, since the stomach walls are protected by a layer of mucus. The esophagus is not equipped with this kind of protection, though, and if stomach acid enters that area, then pain and discomfort will result.
The esophagus does have a sphincter muscle that is supposed to act as a one-way valve to keep stomach acids from making their way up from the stomach. If the muscle is weakened, then stomach acids can escape and cause heartburn, and this condition is known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Eating certain foods can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and you will want to watch your consumption of the following if you to lessen your risk of having an episode of heartburn:
- Fried foods or high-fat foods
- Raw Onions
- Soft Drinks
Do you remember your mother telling you that eating a big meal right before bed would give you nightmares? It turns out she was on the right track; eating a lot right before bed can lead to heartburn, which is considered nightmarish by many people.
Anything that puts pressure on the stomach can lead to heartburn. If your clothing is too tight, you can experience symptoms. Pregnant women may find that as they get closer to their due date, they are more likely to experience heartburn. Being overweight increases a person’s likelihood of experiencing heartburn, as well.
Smoking can also cause heartburn, which is another reason to consider giving up the habit if you are a smoker already, and not to start if you currently don’t smoke. Stress is also a factor when it comes to heartburn, so adopting some effective stress management techniques may not only improve your health, but save you from this condition, too.
How To Cure Heartburn
The first thing people think of when they are looking for a way to relieve the symptoms of heartburn is to use an antacid. These products are available in liquid and tablet forms from drug and grocery stores. Antacids work relatively quickly to neutralize the acid in the stomach and the esophagus and relief lasts for a couple of hours.
If an antacid isn’t giving you the relief you want and need, you have the option of taking an over-the-counter preparation to cut down on the amount of acid your stomach produces. For more serious heartburn problems, a prescription medication is in order.
Proton-pump inhibitors are drugs that can be prescribed to cut down on the amount of stomach acid being produced and to help heal the irritated esophagus. This method of treatment has been a very effective treatment option.
These types of medications do come with some cautions, though. A person taking a proton-pump inhibitor may find that they are more likely to contract a bacterial or viral infection. Do let your doctor and pharmacist know if you are taking any other medications in addition to the proton-pump inhibitor, since this medication may lower the absorption rate of other drugs.
Another class of medications that has been used to effectively treat heartburn is the motility drugs. These drugs work on the LES by stimulating it to close more tightly. Once the LES is able to close up properly, the problem of stomach acid moving up into the esophagus is solved.
Keep a diary of everything you eat or drink for a few weeks and compare this information to when you have had heartburn.
Drinking ginger ale may help to alleviate the symptoms of heartburn. Ginger helps to absorb excess stomach acid and settle things down. The complex carbohydrates contained in plain white rice will also help to absorb excess stomach acid. To get relief quickly, you can cook some instant rice and eat it.
In a situation where you are experiencing heartburn on a regular basis, try drinking a solution made from two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and one cup of water. Sip it slowly during the meal. The acetic acid in the vinegar will help to stabilize the acid in the stomach and help to prevent heartburn.
If you are looking for a good choice as far as condiments go, look no further than prepared mustard. It helps with digestion, and has can keep your stomach acid balanced.
A very simple remedy for heartburn is to chew some spearmint gum. Not only does the spearmint help with digestion, but the increased saliva that results from chewing the gum will neutralize stomach acid.
If you are using a lot of products touted as cures for heartburn but are still having symptoms, then consult your doctor. They may be a sign of a more serious medical condition that needs to be addressed.