Top FAQs about heartburn

Heartburn is a painful, warm, burning sensation in the chest, which typically comes and goes in waves.

Medically, the condition is known as pyrosis or acid indigestion. It is generally seen that the pain starts from the chest area but can travel to the neck, throat and jaw. It usually occurs soon after a heavy, fatty meal and leaves a very sour taste in the mouth because of the gastro-esophageal reflux. Today, Dr. Arpit Jain, Internal Medicine Consultant at Artemis Health Institute, helps us understand the most frequent heartburn concerns.

#1 Heartburn concern: What exactly is heartburn?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling of burning sensation or pain in the chest behind the sternum (breastbone). The pain often rises in the chest and may radiate to the neck, throat, or angle of the jaw. Although the pain of heartburn is felt in the chest, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Instead, heartburn is caused by stomach acid. This is caused by reflux of gastric acid from stomach in to the esophagus (food pipe)

#2 Heartburn concern: Is heartburn caused by stress?
While stress hasn't been linked directly to heartburn, it is known that it can lead to behaviours that can trigger heartburn. During stressful times, routines are disrupted and people may not follow their normal routines in regards to meals, exercise and medication.

#3 Heartburn concern: Seriousness of heartburn as a condition
Though heartburn is caused by reflux of gastric acid in the food pipe, a person who has these symptoms for the first time may find it difficult to distinguish it from pain of cardiac origin, because that pain can sometimes mimic heartburn. So, it is not advisable to take new heartburn lightly. One must seek immediate medical consultation. Chronic acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can lead to serious complications. The constant presence of refluxed acid in the esophagus can lead to conditions such as Barrett's esophagus (a pre cancerous condition), erosive esophagitis, esophageal strictures, and even esophageal cancer.

#4 Heartburn concern: Importance of keeping a heartburn record
Record what triggered your acid reflux episodes, the severity of each episode, how your body reacts, and what gives you relief. The next step is to take this information to your doctor so the two of you can determine what lifestyle changes you will need to make and what treatments will give you maximum relief.

#5 Heartburn concern: Ways to prevent night-time heartburn

A few ways to prevent night-time heartburn are:

- Eat your big meal at lunch instead of at dinner time.

- Eat at least two to three hours before lying down. Avoid late-night snacks
- Avoid foods that are known to lead to heartburn.

- Sleep with your head and shoulder on an incline.

- Make sure your bed clothes are loose-fitting.

- Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown that this position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid. Sleeping on the right side has been shown to worsen heartburn.

#6 Heartburn concern: Quick ways to prevent heartburn

Some of the quick ways to prevent heartburn are:

- Don't wear belts or clothes that are tight fitting around the waist.

- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

- Avoid foods and beverages that can trigger reflux of stomach contents.

- Some foods and beverages increase the risk of reflux by relaxing the LES. These include alcohol; beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea and cola drinks;

carbonated beverages; citrus fruits and juices; tomatoes and tomato sauces;
chocolate; spicy and fatty foods, garlic and onion.

- Don't eat within two to three hours before bedtime.

- Elevate your head a few inches while you sleep.

- Stop smoking and avoid alcohol.

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