“Heartburn” is a term given to a feeling you get in your upper abdomen and chest, usually after eating. It gets its name from the fact that it can make you feel like your heart is on fire.
The condition is caused by a variety of factors. The one common denominator: when it hits, you’ll want heartburn relief—and fast.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when acids from the stomach pop up through the esophageal sphincter (the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus) and enter the esophagus, burning the lining.
Heartburn can be caused by something as simple as eating a big spicy meal. It typically passes as the food digests and as you swallow the acid back into your stomach.
Other causes of heartburn can be digestive or related to other health issues, including:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – also called “acid reflux”, this is a condition in which stomach acid regularly enters the esophagus. A weak or diseased lower esophageal sphincter (LES) cannot keep the opening with the stomach properly closed.
- Medications –aspirin, ibuprofen, pharmaceuticals
- Alcohol – stimulates the production of stomach acids but the effects vary by person (1)
- Smoking – nicotine can relax the LES and other muscles of the esophagus, and stimulate the production of stomach acid. In addition, routine coughing that accompanies regular smoking puts pressure on the LES, eventually weakening it. (2)
- Hiatal hernia – when a part of the stomach enters the upper abdomen, it can put pressure on the LES, causing acid reflux
- Pregnancy – pressure on the lower abdomen can cause indigestion and heartburn
- Scleroderma – a chronic disease of the body’s connective tissue
- Sarcoidosis – inflammation of lung, lymph, or other organ tissues
- Heart attack
- Too much or too little stomach acid
What Does Heartburn Feel Like?
Symptoms of heartburn can feel like a hot irritation in the stomach, chest, or throat. It can also be felt as a spasm or shooting pain.
If it becomes chronic, disorders of the esophagus can occur due to deterioration of the oesophageal lining. This condition can contribute to esophageal cancer. (3)
However it feels to you and regardless of how often it may occur, you’ll need to know how to stop heartburn.