The name heartburn is a bit misleading; the condition has nothing to do with the heart though. The name must have come because some of the symptoms have similarity with that of a heart attack or a heart disease. It is actually happens when the oesophagus or the tube that connects the throat and the stomach gets some irritation. The first symptom is a burning sensation in the upper stomach or just below the breastbone.
What triggers heartburn?
The problem is caused due to a muscular valve that is located where the oesophagus meets the stomach not working properly. Normally, the valve helps keep the stomach acid right where it should be, that is in the stomach where it aids in digestion.
When the valve is working properly it opens to allow food into the stomach and let the gases out which makes you belch. The valve then closes. When the valve is not working it opens too often or does not close tight enough, this lets the stomach acid to seep into the oesophagus and causes the burning.
The working of the valve is hindered by two things mainly, one is overeating and the other is putting too much pressure on your stomach. The pressure may be due to obesity, pregnancy or constipation.
There are foods that can relax the valve or increase acidity in the stomach like tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic and onions, chocolate, coffee and alcohol. Meals high in fats and oils, certain medications, stress and lack of sleep are some of the other things that can cause heartburn.
What is the duration of heartburn?
Heartburn usually lasts just for a few minutes but for some people it can last longer or for several hours. When the heartburn is occasional it is not dangerous but if it lasts for months together it is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GRD) and can lead to chronic cough, laryngitis, ulcers of oesophagus and even cancer.
How can you avoid heartburn?
There are several things a patient can do to improve heartburn or get rid of it. You can lose weight, try wearing lose clothes instead of clothes that put pressure on your stomach, quit smoking, change medications in consultation with your doctor, avoid fatty and oil foods, avoid coffee and scale down the rigours of your exercise.