Understanding Heartburn And Its Causes

heartburnHeartburn has got nothing to do with your heart. But some symptoms are similar to those of heart disease or heart attack. It is actually an irritation of the esophagus. Esophagus is the tube which joins your throat and stomach. The cause of heartburn is stomach acid. You will experience some kind of burning sensation in your upper belly or just below your breast bone.

What Causes Heartburn?

Symptoms of heartburn may be due to a problem with a muscular valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It is present where the esophagus joins the stomach. Its location is slightly to the left of center and below the rib cage. In a healthy person, the LES with the help of gravity keeps the stomach acid exactly where it should be i.e. in your stomach. When it is working fine, the LES opens to allow the food into your stomach or sometimes allow you to belch and closes again. In case the LES is opening too often or doesn’t close tightly, it makes the stomach acid seep into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation.

There are two things that might not allow the LES to tighten properly and causing the problem. Overeating is the first factor which puts too much food in your stomach. Another factor may be too much pressure on your stomach which may be due to pregnancy, obesity or can be constipation.

However there are certain foods which help to relax your LES which includes the following:

  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic and onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Coffee
  • Peppermint

Certain medicines as well as meals high in oils & fats often cause heartburn. Lack of sleep and stress can raise the stomach acid levels which can lead to the problem. During pregnancy the hormone progesterone relaxes your LES and causes heartburn. Another cause is smoking which may relax the LES and increase the stomach acid levels.

Duration of Heartburn

It varies from person to person. For some, it may be there for just a few minutes or it can last for many hours sometimes. Heartburn is common in pregnant women. Occasional occurrence of the problem is not dangerous. But if persists for long term, then it is called GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and may sometimes lead to severe problems like the following:

  • Inflammation of larynx
  • Ulcers or inflammation of the esophagus
  • Long term cough
  • Narrow esophagus leading to swallowing problems
  • A condition known as Barrett’s esophagus that increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

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