Understanding Frequent Heartburn
For those of us who suffer from frequent heartburn, even the mere idea of meal times can lead to a feeling of dread. Heartburn is a condition in which one’s food or stomach acid makes its way from the stomach back up into the esophagus, or throat. The area where the esophagus and stomach join together is close to the split in the rib cage. Because of the proximity of the pain to the heart, this condition is referred to as “heartburn,” although it has absolutely nothing to do with the heart.
Symptoms of Heartburn
Heartburn produces a number of uncomfortable and downright painful symptoms. The most common symptom is a burning sensation in the area where the rib cages join together. The burning or tightness may travel up the chest and even occur in the throat. A hot and sour-tasting liquid can sometimes travel up the throat and into the mouth. This is bile, or acid, from the stomach and can sometimes carry bits of food with it. With frequent heartburn, the sufferer is likely to have a sore throat that becomes irritated very easily. This is due to the frequent regurgitation of bile which can eat away at the delicate lining of the esophagus. One may find it a little difficult to breathe with very severe heartburn and may actually vomit.
Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn is known to be caused by a number of foods. Although this condition is often associated with spicy foods such as curries, Cajun cuisine, Tabasco, and hot peppers, there are many other possible causes behind heartburn. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, soda, and energy drinks are very likely to cause heartburn because the caffeine encourages the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. This is a band of muscle located where the esophagus and stomach join together. When this band of muscles relaxes or is unable to perform properly, it allows food and acid to exit the stomach and shoot back up into the esophagus. Chocolate, high-fat foods, fried foods, acidic fruits and juices, alcohol, and tobacco are other foods that can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax.
Another culprit behind heartburn is overeating. Eating too much food can cause the stomach to become so full that the contents are forced through the esophageal sphincter and back into the throat. This sometimes leads to vomiting. Heartburn is a common condition among people who eat within two or three hours before bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause surrounding tissues to press against the stomach walls. This makes it difficult for the LES muscles to keep the food contained in the stomach, resulting in reflux.
How to Treat Frequent Heartburn
In order to treat heartburn, one must first identify the cause behind this condition. For some, it may be eating too close to meal times or it could be the type of diet they maintain. It is important that anyone who suffers from heartburn takes care to discover which foods seem to produce the symptoms of heartburn so that those foods may be avoided. Eating four or five smaller meals rather than three large meals is a great way to avoid over-stuffing the stomach and can drastically reduce the occurrence of heartburn.
It is also possible to combat the symptoms of heartburn with the use of antacid medications. Over-the-counter medications such as Pepcid AC, Maalox, Milk of Magnesia, Tums, and Alka-Seltzer, use high doses of calcium to neutralize the acid in the stomach. While these medications are quite effective, the extended use of any of these can result in constipation, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Due to this, over-the-counter antacid products are generally intended for short-term use. Anyone who experiences frequent heartburn for a prolonged amount of time should discuss the condition with their doctor, as a prescription medication may be the ideal form of treatment.