It’s never a comfortable feeling. One minute you’re feeling fine, and then the next, your mouth tastes sour, and your chest is burning. Heartburn symptoms can range from mild to incredibly uncomfortable. There are several symptoms involved in heartburn and just as many causes. We’re digging deep into the burn to help you understand and avoid it whenever possible.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable, often burning feeling in your chest behind your breastbone. It can sometimes move up into your throat or even into your nose. It is usually a symptom of an underlying condition such as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is also common to experience heartburn during pregnancy. Along with a burning sensation, you may experience a sour or acidic taste in the back of your throat. It is usually brought on by something you’ve eaten or by laying down soon after finishing a meal.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach escapes into the esophagus. The stomach is equipped to handle the digestive juices, but the esophagus is made of much more vulnerable tissue. This causes a burning sensation when stomach acid comes in contact with it.
There are several different ways that stomach acid can escape from the stomach. As mentioned above, GERD and acid reflux are two known conditions that can result in heartburn. Acid reflux is when the muscular flap between your esophagus and your stomach, called the esophageal sphincter, relaxes when it’s not supposed to. When this occurs, stomach acid can sneak past the flap and into your esophagus. Another cause of heartburn is a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is a condition where a portion of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm and into the chest cavity, allowing stomach acid to escape.
How Can I Treat Heartburn?
If you’re suffering from heartburn, you’ll want to discuss options with your doctor. Many lifestyle changes and home remedies can correct heartburn symptoms, but some cases may require medication. Things you can do at home are:
- Avoid Trigger Foods. You’ll likely be able to determine which foods cause heartburn and its symptoms to flare up. You can begin to control heartburn if you avoid eating these foods.
- Wear Loose Fitting Clothes. Tight clothes put pressure on your stomach, which can cause heartburn symptoms to appear or worsen.
- Stop Eating When you are Full. Overeating can cause heartburn symptoms. Instead of eating three large meals, try eating four or five smaller meals throughout the day.
- Lose Weight. Obesity can increase your risk of heartburn due to excess weight in your abdominal area. If you are overweight, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your heartburn risk.
- Avoid Alcohol and Smoking. Both alcohol and smoking impact the functionality of the esophageal sphincter muscle. Avoiding both of these can help alleviate heartburn and its symptoms.
- Don’t Eat Close to Bedtime. It’s best to have your last meal of the day several hours before you plan to lay down and sleep. By leaving time between your mealtime and bedtime, you give your body a chance to digest your last meal rather than going to bed with a full stomach.
- Elevate your Head and Chest in Bed. Sleeping on a wedge or propping yourself up in bed can help reduce your risk of heartburn while you’re sleeping. Avoid using a stack of pillows, but try to raise your head and chest above your feet.
- Talk to Your Doctor About Medication. There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications to help control heartburn. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these to help with your symptoms.