Heartburn is a common medical condition affecting millions of people in the country. The term ‘heartburn’ is actually misleading because the condition does not have anything to do with your heart. It actually is a condition created by stomach acid which irritates one’s esophagus causing a burning sensation in the throat and upper abdomen. The muscle in the esophagus called the LES, or lower esophageal sphincter, is meant to keep stomach acid in the stomach and only open to allow food to be digested. If the valve opens too often or is not able to close up tightly, acid can be brought back up causing heartburn.
The LES can malfunction when there is too much food in the stomach or too much pressure on the stomach area, such as when patients are obese. There are also foods that can cause the muscle to relax too much including chocolate, coffee, tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, peppermint, and caffeinated products. Smoking and stress can also contribute to the increase in acid production resulting in heartburn. There are tests that can be performed including an upper endoscopy that can provide a visual of your esophagus and stomach.
Many cases of heartburn can be treated with over-the-counter medications like antacids which can be taken when heartburn occurs. For those suffering from chronic instances of heartburn, a preventative medication can be taken prior to eating or on a daily basis to prevent the buildup of stomach acids.
Many preventative medications must be prescribed by a physician. Dietary changes and weight loss may also be in order for those who have chronic problems with heartburn. For some patients that experience chronic and painful heartburn regularly, surgical methods may be necessary to find relief. As with all surgeries, there is risk involved with invasive procedures so prevention is important.