Understanding Heartburn

WHAT IS HEARTBURN?

In the United States heartburn or acid reflux is a very common problem with more than twenty five million adults troubled with it each and every day and, more than sixty million adults suffering from symptoms every month.

Whenever you eat food it travels down the esophagus into your stomach via a muscular valve known as a sphincter. The sphincter is called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. The LES should open to let the food in and then has to close up again. Heartburn occurs whenever partially broken down food covered in your highly acidic stomach acids passes back thru this sphincter.  The acid irritates the surface of your esophagus resulting in the unpleasant experience we know as heartburn.

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CAUSES OF HEARTBURN

To avoid heartburn you have to discover what is causing your LES either to open when it shouldn’t or not close properly. Your heartburn could be due to a damaged sphincter where leakage comes about due to the fact the LES cannot cope with the pressure of a stomach filled with food, but mostly heartburn is brought about when you eat particular sorts of foods, have an alcoholic drink or smoke cigarettes.

The condition can also be caused as a consequence of too much force on the abdomen which in turn then puts strain on the LES. This strain may be due to pregnancy or through obesity. However it may also triggered by dressing in closely fitting clothes. Heartburn may also be brought on by abnormal muscle or nerve function in your stomach, which means that your food stays longer than it should in the stomach increasing the odds of acid leaking back up into the esophagus.

Some other medical conditions which can cause heartburn include asthma, diabetes and hiatal hernias.

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SYMPTOMS OF HEARTBURN

The commonest symptoms are:

  • a searing pain sensation under your breastbone (close to the heart) that may travel up to the neck
  • an acidic taste in the back of the mouth or throat
  • the regurgitation of food
  • burping

These symptoms often start right after a meal and can intensify when you bend over or lie flat. More infrequently experienced symptoms include difficulty swallowing food, coughing or wheezing, chest pains, feeling sick and throwing up. Symptoms suffered by individuals vary in both nature and severity. Some may have a number of symptoms whilst other people just have a couple.

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HEARTBURN COMPLICATIONS

To suffer from the occasional attack of heartburn is certainly not unusual, but if you’ve got severe heartburn it may possibly signify that you’ve got Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and this is generally known as GERD.

The ramifications associated with untreated GERD can be extremely serious as the continual subjection of your esophagus to acid can cause complications such as esophagitis, esophageal ulcers as well as bleeding from your esophagus. The damage can also cause scar tissue to form and this can result in the development of strictures that narrows your esophagus and can even stop food from getting to the stomach. It is even thought that GERD may cause cancer of the esophagus.

There was an important study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 1999. This research investigated the connections between adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, along with heartburn (GERD) in the entire Swedish population where they found a strong connection between heartburn and cancer. They found an increased chance of cancer even among those individuals with mild heartburn, but the odds increased where the person experienced heartburn on a regular basis or had experienced heartburn over a long period.

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