Heartburn is often described as a painful, burning sensation that occurs mid-chest, behind the breastbone. The effects of heartburn are most often felt after eating a large meal, or one of the “trigger” foods mentioned below. Episodes of heartburn may also be accompanied by a bitter taste in the throat and the mouth.
What causes Heartburn?
At the end of the esophagus, the tube that spans from the throat to the stomach, is the sphincter, a muscle that opens and closes, allowing food and drink to pass. A normally functioning sphincter closes tightly after this passage takes place. A weakened sphincter does not close completely or quickly enough; therefore, contents from the stomach are able to pass through on their way back up through the throat. This is also known as reflux. If you experience symptoms of heartburn only following a large meal, you may have indigestion, but if symptoms occur regularly, then you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is important to have this condition evaluated because some heart conditions can mimic symptoms of heartburn and reflux. Seek immediate medical attention if your heartburn and reflux symptoms are accompanied by excessive sweating, palpitations and/or shortness of breath.
Managing Your Heartburn
There are many lifestyle changes that can be made in order to alleviate episodes of chronic heartburn. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Avoid beverages containing caffeine
- Avoid such foods as chocolate and peppermint
- Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes and tomato sauces
- Avoid lying down following a meal. Do not eat a meal late in the evening.
- Heartburn is known for being worse at night. If you experience worsening symptoms at bedtime, elevate the head of your bed. This can be done by placing lifters underneath the top half of the bed. Do not use many pillows to sleep on, as this might make things worse by increasing the pressure on the stomach
- If you smoke, now is a good time to quit. Smoking is an irritant and can induce more frequent or worsening episodes of heartburn.
- If you drink alcohol, limit the amount of your intake as alcohol is also a known catalyst for heartburn.
- There are a number of prescription-strength over-the-counter medications that are safe and effective to address occasional episodes of heartburn. Among these are omeprazole, lansoprazole, ranitidine and famotidine. Most of these medications are recommended to be taken one hour prior to eating.
- Eat meals that are low in fat and high in protein
- Do not wear tight clothing
If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor as further evaluation and diagnostic testing may be necessary:
- Difficulty or pain upon swallowing
- Vomiting blood (may have the color and texture of coffee grounds)
- Stools may be bloody or black
- Heartburn that occurs more than three times a week
Remember to always inform your doctor of the medicines, both over-the-counter and prescribed, that you are presently taking as certain medicines may cause or aggravate heartburn symptoms.