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What are the Causes of Heartburn?

Jul 23, 2018

Heartburn is the name given to the burning sensation that people feel in their chests as a result of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus, or 'food pipe'. The sensation is typically felt in the center of the chest, behind the sternum. Other symptoms may also present themselves with the burning sensation, such as a sour taste or feelings of food being stuck in the back of the throat. Certain foods can trigger heartburn, as can bodily position after eating. Pregnancy also tends to aggravate heartburn in many women. Many over-the-counter medications are available for treating heartburn, and there a plethora of DIY home remedies and tonics that some people swear by as well. In most cases, these will alleviate symptoms and further medical treatment is unnecessary. However, if the symptoms are persistent, frequent, and accompanied by shortness of breath, it's a good idea to seek out a medical diagnosis, as other factors may be at play. Heartburn is a very regular occurrence in adults and has a variety of causal factors, the following of which are the most common.

1. Consuming Certain Kinds of Food and Drink

Heartburn is most commonly brought on after consuming acidic things that the body has trouble breaking down. These include coffee, alcohol, chocolate, fatty foods, and anything spicy. These foods and drinks irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the production and upward release of stomach acid.

2. Smoking Tobacco

This shouldn't come as a shocker, considering smoke is a major irritant. Inhaling toxic chemicals and smoke agitates the back of the throat and decreases the production of saliva, often causing an excess of acid production. The chemicals relax the muscles in the lower esophagus, which are responsible for keeping acid in the stomach. They are prevented from keeping stomach acid from trickling up the throat.

3. Being Overweight

Many people who suffer from obesity will experience heartburn intensely and regularly. However, even being mildly overweight can trigger acid reflux, which leads to the experience of heartburn. There are several theories on why this occurs, one being that excessive amounts of fat in the abdomen compresses the stomach, applying pressure that in turn releases more acid. Additionally, many overweight people tend to eat a diet higher in fat to begin with, which worsens the heartburn.

4. Pregnancy

Heartburn during pregnancy most commonly occurs during the later stages, where there is an excessive amount of pressure on the stomach and entire abdominal area. The uterus also crowds the stomach, forcing acid upward through the esophagus. Additionally, the increase in pregnancy released hormones relaxes the muscles, including those of the stomach valve, preventing them from keeping acid in its rightful place.

5. Stress and Anxiety

As if these emotions and feelings aren't difficult enough to deal with already, they also come with the added effect of increasing stomach acid levels. They trigger production in the stomach, and the acid has nowhere to go but up.

6. Medications

There are few, if any, medications that come free from negative side effects. In the case of painkillers, heartburn is one of them. Pain medications, as well as certain antibiotics can irritate the lining of the stomach and cause it to produce more stomach acid. This is one of the major reasons that doctors do not recommend consuming these medications on an empty stomach. Seemingly milder pills can still also trigger this effect.

7. Hernias

While the above mentioned causes are fairly mild and controllable in nature, people don't typically plan on getting a hernia. A hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach moves upward into the chest. This allows excess acid to sneak out and upward, weakening the lower esophageal sphincter and causing reflux-induced heartburn.

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