The Most Common Causes of Heartburn
Why does heartburn occur? The food you eat goes down through your esophagus into your stomach via a small opening between the esophagus and stomach. Normally, this little opening acts like a gate, widening to let the food through and quickly closing up behind it. But sometimes the "gate" doesn't close all the way, and stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. This is what gives you that burning feeling. You may also experience heartburn if you have a hiatal hernia, a condition that involves part of the stomach being pushed up into the chest. Pregnancy also makes heartburn worse, because of the pressure of the baby inside the abdomen.
Heartburn, if experienced intermittently, usually is nothing to worry about. But if you have it often, you may eventually get esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus. In severe cases this can cause narrowing of the esophagus, which can lead to bleeding or difficulty swallowing. Frequent heartburn also may signal acid reflux disease, a condition in which stomach acid or even bile regularly flows back into the esophagus; gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining; or a peptic ulcer (a hole or sore in your stomach lining).
If heartburn is making meals unpleasant for you, there are a few remedies you can try. Since certain foods and drinks are known irritants, you may want to steer clear of them. Avoid:
- coffee and other caffeinated drinks
- soda and other carbonated drinks
- citrus fruit
- tomatoes and tomato products
- fatty or spicy foods
Also on the forbidden list: aspirin or ibuprofen. Check with your doctor, as other medications may also irritate the stomach. Antacids may help, but overusing them can irritate your stomach further. Finally, use simple common sense. Don't wear tight pants while you eat, and avoid lying down right after meals. Don't smoke, and if you're overweight, lose the extra pounds--they put unnecessary pressure on your belly and make your heartburn worse.
Source: American Academy of Family Physicians
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