What is Heartburn? by Nancy Brown

10/30/2017

Hello everyone and Happy Halloween! Before you dress up as a ghost and scare your neighbors have a quick read of this deep dive by one of our star writers Nancy Brown on Heartburn, what it is and why we get it. Here’s Nancy:


 

What is heartburn?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid moves up to the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). Heartburn can feel like a burning pain in your chest. Lying down often makes it worse. The pain in your chest might happen right after you’ve eaten or wake you up from sleep at night. You might have a bad taste in your mouth and feel like you need to burp. Heartburn is also called “acid indigestion”.

When you swallow, the esophagus allows food and liquid to move down into your stomach. The esophagus contracts (relaxes and tightens) to allow food to pass through. If the esophagus is weakened, acid from the stomach can back up, causing heartburn.

mayo Heartburn graphic.png
image property of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

The Mayo Clinic tells us, foods that cause heartburn include citrus fruits, alcohol, tomatoes, spicy, fried or fatty foods, chocolate, and caffeine. Being overweight or pregnant also increases your risk for heartburn.

GERD

If you have frequent or constant heartburn you may have a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD can seriously damage your esophagus. To determine if your heartburn is GERD, your gastroenterologist may perform any of several tests including an upper endoscopy to check for any abnormalities.

Heartburn is also a common side effect of Gastroparesis (GP). This is due to the delay in stomach emptying, increasing the occurrence of stomach acid moving up into the esophagus resulting in GERD. Because food stays in the stomach longer, stomach acid is increased.

ANTACIDS

There are many antacids or acid-blockers that are available over the counter that can resolve your heartburn (that is not the same thing as treating your GERD, which is a chronic condition). Antacids work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach. The active ingredient in antacids is simethicone, which makes the gas bubbles easier to pass. Examples of antacids include: Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Gaviscon. Acid blockers reduce the development of acid in your stomach. Examples of acid blockers include Pepcid AC, Tagamet, and Zantac. Eliminating the food triggers from your diet will also help to reduce or even eliminate your indigestion.

PROTON PUMP INHIBITORS

If your frequency of heartburn is more than twice a week or if the over the counter antacids or acid blockers do not resolve your heart burn, your doctor may prescribe medications to aid in resolving heartburn. Products include prescription level acid blockers, proton pump inhibitors (PPI) that block the production of stomach acid, or Reglan to increase digestion.

Complications from frequent heartburn or GERD include very serious conditions such as esophagitis or Barrett’s esophagus. If your heartburn symptoms persist or you have questions about how to treat your heartburn, contact your gastroenterologist or health care provider.

 

Nancy Brown lives in Virginia with her husband of 38 years, Ed.  They’re empty nesters and are enjoying retirement.  Prior to retiring, Nancy was a Manager of Requirement Analysis at Navy Federal Credit Union.


Resources:

https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/understanding-heartburn-basics

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/basics/definition/con-20019545

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/multimedia/how-heartburn-and-gerd-occur/img-20007555

https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-disorders-gastroparesis#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886367/

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/heartburn-treatment

image credit: Unsplash.com