Heartburn is a common problem. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the heart.
When you have heartburn often, you may have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. It is important to get treatment for frequent heartburn, because a small percentage of people with GERD will develop changes in the lining of the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus. These changes can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
At the bottom of the esophagus there is a ring of muscle called a sphincter. It acts like a valve. When you swallow food, the sphincter opens to let the food pass into the stomach. The ring then closes to keep the stomach contents from going back into the esophagus. If the sphincter is weak or too relaxed, stomach acid and food flow backward into the esophagus. Because the esophagus does not have the protective lining that the stomach has, the acid causes pain.
The sphincter muscle sometimes does not work properly if:
Foods that may make heartburn worse are:
Heartburn can also be made worse by:
Anyone can have an attack of heartburn from overeating or eating foods that are high in acid. Most of the time heartburn is mild and lasts for a short time. There is usually not a problem when heartburn occurs just once in a while. You should see your healthcare provider if:
The main symptom of heartburn is a burning pain in the lower chest, usually close to the bottom of the breastbone. Other symptoms you may have are:
These symptoms tend to happen after very large meals and especially with activity such as bending or lifting after meals. The symptoms may be made worse by lying down or by wearing tight clothing.
Heartburn is very common during the last few months of pregnancy. The weight of the baby pushes on the stomach and can cause the sphincter to let acid flow back into the esophagus.
Usually heartburn can be diagnosed from your medical history.
If there is any question about the diagnosis, you may have the following tests to check for ulcers or other problems that might cause your symptoms:
To help reduce the symptoms of heartburn you can:
If the simple measures described above do not relieve the symptoms, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine. The prescription medicines help reduce stomach acid. They also help stomach emptying. A very few people who are not helped with medicines may need surgery.
Get emergency care if the following symptoms occur with the heartburn and do not go away within 15 minutes of treatment for heartburn: shortness of breath; sweating; lightheadedness, weakness; or pain in the chest, jaw, arm, or back.
Heartburn symptoms are usually relieved by treatment in just a few hours or less. If you are having heartburn every day, starting treatment will usually relieve the symptoms in a few days. However, the symptoms may come back from time to time, especially if you gain weight.
Heartburn can sometimes make asthma worse. If you have asthma, preventing or controlling heartburn may help control your asthma symptoms.
The best prevention is to:
It may also help if you:Wait an hour or longer after eating before you lie down. Keep your head and shoulders slightly higher than the rest of your body. It's best to not eat for 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.
Ranitidine (example: Zantac®)
Famotidine (example: Pepcid®)
Lansoprazole (example: Prevacid®)
Omeprazole (example: Prilosec®)
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Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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