Heartburn: Causes, symptoms, and solutions

Learn all you need to about this inconvenient disorder, which often causes discomfort after a heavy meal. Discover the factors that cause it, the symptoms that will help you identify it, and the solutions you can use to make it go away.

The causes of Heartburn
Heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. This is a disease which affects the esophagus due to the stomach acid refluxing back into it. There are a number of irritants that could lead to an acid reflux and ergo, a heartburn. Some of those include alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, and acidic food. Smoking is also known to be a common cause of acid reflux when combined with high fat content food. Pregnancy could also cause increased pressure in the abdominal cavity that could result in heartburn. Diseases affecting the esophagus directly could also render heartburn as a symptom.

Symptoms you need to watch out for
The refluxing stomach acid in the esophagus causes pain, known as heartburn. Heartburn mainly presents as a burning sensation behind the breastbone. This pain could either be felt in the form of a spasm or a sharp pain. It usually lasts for a few minutes but it could also last for a few hours. The pain of acid reflux or heartburn mainly remains in the lower chest. Heartburn can worsen right after meals and while lying down. It usually affects people who are overweight. Sometimes, it could also present with a sour taste in the back of the throat due to the stomach acid. Coughing and hoarseness of the voice are common symptoms. Usually, it is difficult to swallow when heartburn occurs. The enamel on the teeth are also prone to damage due to the acid reflux. Persistent heartburn can lead to ulcers in the esophagus due to inflammation. Heartburn could also be confused for other medical conditions such as a heart attack, pneumonia, or chest wall pain.

The solutions at your disposal

Long term solutions
These solutions for heartburn usually comprise of lifestyle changes. It is imperative that a person prone to heartburn eats smaller meals but also eats more often. Eating slowly helps in better digestion of the food. It is better to wait for a while before sleeping and hence avoid eating right before going to bed. Alcohol affects the body and specifically the gastrointestinal system. Avoiding alcohol could lead to reduced heartburn in the long run. Quitting cigarette smoking is beneficial for the body in its entirety. It also helps in the reduction of heartburn.

Short term solutions
A number of short term solutions for heartburn includes drugs, mainly over the counter. Antacids can help prevent heartburn. They are generally taken right after meals to prevent excess stomach acid from getting into the esophagus. They work within seconds. Histamine Antagonists or H2 blockers are medications that decrease the production of stomach acid. This could further prevent acid reflux and heartburn. H2 blockers take about 30 minutes to be effective. Proton-Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) also lower the amount of acid that the body produces. They take about 4 days to start working. These are prescription drugs.