After finishing off your fifth course while out to dinner with friends, that oh-so familiar pain hits your chest. You reach for your ant-acids and hope to catch it before the pain ruins your night out. Heartburn is a very common experience for some and can have long-term affects if not treated properly. Whether you've experience it in passing, or have chronic heart burns, you most likely have experience the burning sensation. So, what exactly is heartburn?
According to WebMD, heartburn is an “irritation of the esophagus caused by stomach acid.” Though heartburn has nothing to do with your actual heart, the pain experienced by those with heartburn is usually below the breastbone and/or lower abdomen.
How Does it Happen?
Your esophagus starts at the back of your throat and is responsible for carrying food to the stomach. Below the rib cage and slightly left, at the top of the stomach, there is a muscular valve called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, or LES. It is there to keep food and acid from seeping or traveling from the stomach back into the esophagus. A properly functioning LES will open and close tightly with no discomfort, but a person experiencing heartburn with most likely have a LES that isn’t closing properly allowing acid back into the esophagus. This is what essentially causes the heart “burn.”
What Causes Heartburn?
There are two main causes. These include:
1. Over eating, too much food in the stomach
2. Too much pressure on the stomach
*Other causes include smoking, and very commonly GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. If your heartburn symptoms are persistent after meals it is important to see your doctor and address the problem. Experiencing these symptoms longterm can cause difficulty swallowing, loss of taste, and damage to the esophagus (bleeding and inflammation).
How to Avoid Heartburn?
1. Maintain a healthy body weight. Calculate your BMI here.
2. Avoid Smoking.
3. Don’t lie down directly after eating.
4. Eat several hours before bed.
5. Avoid foods that trigger the burning sensation.
6. Eat foods that soothe the pain.
Many people experience heartburn, which is why it's important to spread the word about the causes, symptoms, and most importantly, prevention. If you're currently experiencing these symptoms, take the steps listed above to make lifestyle changes that will significantly impact your condition.