Heartburn is a common term used for the burning sensation or pain felt at the chest just behind the breastbone. It may also manifest as a sour taste at the back of the mouth and difficulty in swallowing food or liquids. A misconception is that it is associated with the heart but what causes heartburn is the reflux of acid from the stomach that reaches up to the esophagus. The stomach produces acids such as hydrochloric acid to help break down food particles into a soupy consistency.
Occasionally, some of these acids escape the stomach when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle inappropriately opens. The backflow of acid up the food tube burns the esophageal lining and causes the pain or discomfort brought by heartburn.
There are generally three categories on what causes heartburn: those that cause pressure on the stomach valve causing it to open, those that loosen the muscles on the valve that make sit unable to close fully, and those that stimulate excess production of acids in the stomach.
The factors that cause an increased upward pressure in the stomach are:
• Pregnancy. As the baby inside the womb grows, pressure on the stomach builds up and causes the LES muscle to open and allows the gastric acids to shoot up the esophagus.
• Large meals with water. Eating large meals at one sitting may cause an overload in the stomach and increase the pressure inside. Drinking water while eating a meal also adds up to the load in the stomach. It is better to drink in between meals rather than while eating your meals.
• Fatty and oily food. Fatty and oily foods are slower and harder to digest thus the stomach keeps busy for a longer time. As this happens, pressure builds up and once in a while, the LES may be forced open and acid reflux may take place.
• Wearing tight clothing. Belts, waistbands, and tight slimming undergarments add to the upward pressure in the stomach. These tight clothing may hinder the stomach to expand while eating thus forcing an opening through the LES to accommodate the food and let some acid escape. This sudden escape of acids is what causes heartburn and its symptoms.
Factors that cause the loosening of stomach valves are:
• Vices. Excessive smoking and drinking of alcohol relaxes the LES muscle and renders it incapable of fully closing. The gaps in the sphincter allows acid to shoot up and damage the esophagus.
• Certain types of food. Citrus fruits and their juices, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee and caffeinated products are some examples of food that relaxes or loosens the LES muscles. Different people may react differently to these foods, not all of them could cause heartburn.
Acid production in the stomach is stimulated by the following:
• Excessively spicy foods. Spicy foods hasten the production of stomach acids and too much acid in the stomach is what causes heartburn.
• Stress. Stress in your everyday activities causes the production of gastric acids. Take time to relax and create a balanced lifestyle of work and rest to avoid heartburn occurrences.
• Medicine. Some types of medications induce acid production in the stomach. To quickly neutralize the acids, make sure to drink adequate water when taking medicines.
A lot of factors may cause heartburn. Different people also have different triggers to what causes heartburn or acid reflex in their bodies. Observe the pattern of occurrences of your heartburn and if needed, consult a physician for medication. Heartburn may be a natural medical phenomena but chronic heartburn may mean an underlying condition that needs medical attention.