What you need to know about Heartburn
Heartburn is a sensation of burning or discomfort typically experienced in the chest area or upper belly up to the throat. Heartburn is normally a result of an irritation of the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach) caused by stomach acid, and is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as acid reflux).
According to the Harvard Health Publishing, about one-third of Americans experience heartburn at least once a month1, making this condition quite a common sensation in this nation. Heartburns usually last for a few minutes, but can last up to several hours.
Who is more susceptible to heartburn?
Heartburn typically occurs after the consumption of specific foods or drinks, such as alcohol, chocolate, spicy foods (pepper), citrus fruits (oranges/grapefruit), coffee, caffeinated drinks, tomatoes, peppermint, fatty goods, cheese, and nuts.
Heartburn is more common in people with obesity. Obese individuals have excess belly fat, which causes pressure in the stomach. However, in an article published on the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, it has been revealed that relatively small changes in weight, even in individuals who have maintained healthy ideal weight, can increase the severity of heartburn and its associated complications2.
Smokers are also more susceptible to suffering heartburn as it affects the proper functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter.
What are the symptoms of Heartburn?
- Burning or discomforting sensation in the chest that occurs after eating
- Chest pain
- Burning in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling of food “sticking” in the middle of the chest or throat
- Chronic cough, sore throat, or chronic hoarseness
What is the difference between a heartburn and a heart attack?
Despite its name, heartburn is not related to the heart at all, but some of its symptoms may be similar to a heart attack or heart disease. This is why it is important to distinguish whether you are suffering from heartburn or a heart attack.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you may be experiencing a heart attack and should get immediate medical attention:
- Chest pain that feels as if there is excessive weight, or pressure, that is crushing your chest
- Cold sweats and shortness of breath
- Pain that radiates to the shoulder and arm (typically left sided) that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
- Nausea, indigestion, and fatigue.
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.
Does my diet affect or cause heartburn?
Certain foods can trigger heartburn, and being able to identify and limit your triggers may help to prevent this condition.
- Be cautious of the amount of food you eat as excess consumption of food all at once increases the probability of heartburns.
- Eating too fast can contribute to indigestion and can make heartburn more likely.
- High-fat foods tend to stay in the stomach longer. Keep in mind that the longer these fatty goods stay, the more likely the food digestion can lead to heartburn.
- Acidic foods can trigger heartburn especially if you eat them by themselves or on an empty stomach (Tomatoes are very acidic and tomato sauce is a trigger for many people).
- Beverages such as coffee, caffeinated tea, carbonated drinks, and excess alcoholic beverages can lead to heartburn.
- Spicy and peppery foods can also be heartburn triggers.
Looking for more useful health information? Then you are in the right place! Visit our other blogs today!
Medically Reviewed by Roman Shulze, MD.
1 Heartburn Statistics – Harvard Health Tips Article. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School.
2 Brian C. Jacobson, M.D., M.P.H., Samuel C. Somers, M.D., Charles S. Fuchs, M.D., M.P.H., Ciarán P. Kelly, M.D., and Carlos A. Camargo, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H. (2006, June 1). Body-Mass Index and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux in Women. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa054391