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By Angela Young

Heartburn is the result of an inflamed esophagus. The inflammation develops because of stomach acid from the stomach, which seeps into the esophagus. Heartburn is a misnomer because it actually has nothing to do with the heart or heart disease as the name implies.

If heartburn occurs every once and a while there is nothing to worry about, however, if heartburn becomes a chronic condition then treatment may be necessary. Heartburn is common in about 10% of the population and happens in about 50% of pregnant women. For about 30% of the population heartburn happens only occasionally.

Heartburn Symptoms

It is important to know what heartburn symptoms are and to be able to differentiate them from other possible causes. Heart attack symptoms can mimic those of heartburn, so understanding what is truly heartburn and what isn’t can be lifesaving.

Symptoms of heartburn include burning in the chest usually behind the breastbone, chest pain that seems to get worse when bent over or laying down, burning in the throat, difficulty swallowing, the feeling of food being stuck in the throat and with chronic heartburn a cough will likely develop.

Heartburn Causes

There are several causes of heartburn. Most of the causes of heartburn are do to lifestyle choice, but there are some causes of heartburn that are out of control of the sufferer.

Heartburn can develop because of stomach abnormalities. One of the most common stomach abnormalities is a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia makes it easier for acid to enter the esophagus from the stomach because moves above the diaphragm making it difficult to block the acid reflux.

Pregnancy is another cause of heartburn. The hormones and pressure from the fetus create digestive issues that usually manifest in heartburn. Heartburn during pregnancy usually resolves itself after the child is born.

Smoking can cause heartburn. Smoking damages the mucus membranes and damages the reflexes of the throat. Smoking also increases the production of acid and reduces salivation. Saliva helps to neutralize acid. The combination works to increase the likelihood of suffering from heartburn.

There are also acid reflux causing foods. People who eat chocolate, citrus foods, fried foods, tomato based foods, spicy foods, mint, garlic and onions. People who drink carbonated beverages and alcohol are also likely to have higher rates of heartburn.

Other causes of heartburn include obesity, eating a heavy meal prior to lying down or bending over, snacking before bed, over-exertion from exercise that puts pressure on the stomach and some medications can cause heartburn.

Heartburn Diagnosis

Some doctors will just need to hear the patient’s symptoms in order to diagnose the heartburn condition. Other doctors may want to conduct an upper endoscopy.

The symptoms of heartburn are fairly straightforward, but determining if there is excessive damage to the esophagus is important when the doctor is trying to determine the best possible treatment.

An upper endoscopy is a scope that goes down the throat towards the stomach. The scope has a camera on the end so that the doctor can see what the esophagus looks like and can assess any damage that may exist.

Heartburn Treatment

Heartburn treatment can be as simple as not eating late at night or having the patient prop themselves up slightly while sleeping. Usually making changes in eating habits, like avoiding spicy food can make a huge difference in the occurrence of heartburn.

Some doctors may prescribe medication to help eliminate excess stomach acid in an effort to relieve the reflux. Surgery may also be an option if the upper endoscopy shows signs of significant esophageal damage in the patient.

Usually a change in diet and the occasional antacid are enough to treat heartburn for most people.

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