Heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation and pain in the chest region caused by the gastric acid that rises through the esophagus (a muscular tube connecting the throat with stomach) and can reach the pharynx (part of the throat that is behind the mouth and nasal cavity). Studies show that around 7% of the world’s population suffers from this disease every day and that 50% have monthly occurrence of this medical disorder.
The basic cause of heartburn is when the gastric juice returns through the esophagus. This occurs when the esophageal sphincter does not contract fully and allows the stomach acid to come in contact with the esophageal mucosa. Factors such as inadequate nutrition, stress, smoking and alcohol consumption can trigger heartburn. Overweight, pregnant women with gastroesophageal reflux disease are more likely to suffer from heartburn.
- 1 What is Heartburn (Acid Reflux)?
- 2 Difference between Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD
- 3 Epidemiology
- 4 Causes of Heartburn
- 5 Risk Groups of Heartburn
- 6 Symptoms of heartburn
- 7 Diagnosis for Heartburn or Acid Reflux
- 8 Complications of Heartburn
- 9 Acid Reflux Medicines
- 10 Natural Home Remedies for Heartburn
- 11 Home Remedies for Heartburn during Pregnancy
- 12 How to prevent Heartburn/Acid Reflux in general?
- 13 Important Takeaway
- 14 Final Words
What is Heartburn (Acid Reflux)?
Heartburn or heartburn is a burning sensation in the esophagus that is characterized by a little pain above the stomach, in the region just below the chest, behind the sternum bone. Usually the burning symptoms worsen when the person is lying down and is due to the presence of the gastric juice outside its habitual place. The burning sensation can rise to the pharynx and cause acidic belching and increased salivation.
Difference between Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD
All the 3 terms – Heartburn, Acid Refulx and GERD are often used interchangeably. Though they are closely related, they don’t have the same meaning.
Acid Reflux is a digestive disorder in which the stomach’s acid enters the esophagus which creates a burning sensation and a pain in the chest region. Heartburn is more of a symptom of Acid Reflux and not a medical condition. GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) is the most severe or advanced stage of Acid Reflux in which the patient needs to undergo proper medical care.
Heartburn still needs more accurate data on its incidence. Studies indicate that about 7% of the world’s population suffer from heartburn daily, 15% weekly and 50% have monthly intervals. According to a recent study, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) has a prevalence of 10 to 20% in the adult population of the Western world, it is the most common chronic illness of the upper digestive tract.
Several studies have reported prevalence of cramps and abdominal pain in the range of 10% – 46% of the general population. The prevalence is higher in women than in men, and in different groups of age a similar prevalence is observed.
Cases of heartburn incidence have quadrupled in the last 20 years. About 20 to 40% of patients have heartburn due to Gastresophageal Reflux Disease. The remaining patients have the disease for several other reasons.
Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn occurs when acidic gastric juice, which is in the stomach, flows back up to the esophagus. The sphincter at the end of the esophagus usually opens to allow food or liquid to reach the stomach, closing immediately. If this sphincter relaxes or does not close completely, the stomach acid may come back, causing heartburn. For this reason, the symptoms worsen when the person lies down or folds. In this case, heartburn or heartburn is due to Gastresophageal Reflux Disease. The causes that lead to abnormal relaxation of the gastroesophageal sphincter are many: smoking, diabetes, asthma, obesity, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma, among others.
Factors that lead to excessive production of gastric juice, such as inadequate diet, also contribute to heartburn. Very spicy or caffeine-based foods and also citrus fruits can worsen the patient’s heartburn disorder.
Bacteria that causes Heartburn
Bacteria called Helicobacter pylori causes heartburn and gastric inflammation. On June 16, 1984, two Australian researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren demonstrated in one study that the stomach was colonized by bacteria (H. pylori); this finding opened the door to a new therapy for heartburn, the use of antibiotics.
This revolutionary breakthrough was awarded in 2005 with the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Knowing that stomach cancer is partially caused by H. pylori, treatment of several cases of stomach burning with antibiotics has radically changed medicine, reducing the incidence of stomach cancer.
Risk Groups of Heartburn
Some researchers claim that heartburn is a disease caused by poor diet or excessive consumption of certain foods. Patients with poor diet may experience heartburn at some point in their lives. Some foods to avoid include:
- Citrus fruits
- Fatty foods and fried foods
- Condiments and sauces
- Peppers and peppers
- Soft drinks
Patients who smoke and drink alcohol are also at increased risk of developing heartburn. In addition, individuals with Gastreophageal Reflux Disease have recurrent heartburn.
Pregnant women may also experience burning in the esophagus due to weakening of the esophageal sphincter. Other risk groups are:
- Diabetic patients
- Obese patients
- Patients with scleroderma (a connective tissue disease)
- Patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- Patients with hiatal hernia
- Patients with delayed gastric emptying
Symptoms of heartburn
Symptoms of heartburn are basically burning in the chest area, especially after meals and at night (at bedtime) and chest pain that worsens when the person is lying down or bending. Sometimes chest pain can be so severe that, in many cases, patients confuse it with angina (chest pain when heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood).
Also gastric juice rising to the throat causing a bitter and acidic taste in the mouth is an indication of heartburn or acid reflux. Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing and bouts of nocturnal asthma and cough.
Diagnosis for Heartburn or Acid Reflux
The diagnosis of heartburn can be made by checking the patient’s history in a clinical appointment. More specific tests are conducted to explore whether heartburn is associated with Gastresophageal Reflux Disease or any other cause. In this case, the doctor may order some of the following tests:
X-ray: X-ray of the upper part of the digestive system. In this examination, the patient ingests a solution of barium that allows the doctor to see on the X-ray, the entire silhouette and contour of the stomach, esophagus and duodenum.
Upper endoscopy: Endoscopy allows the doctor to examine the inside of the patient’s esophagus through a tube with a camera on the tip.
Scintigraphy: In this test, the patient needs to consume a harmless radioactive substance that allows an image to be generated through the radiation emitted.
Test to monitor pH: In this examination, the doctor has the possibility to verify how and for how long the stomach regurgitates gastric juice or acid into the esophagus.
Test to monitor the movement of the esophagus: The test is the esophageal impedance and allows evaluating the movement and pressure in the esophagus called esophageal manometry.
Complications of Heartburn
When heartburn is frequent and interferes with the patient’s routine it is called Gastritis-Reflux Disease.
Constant exposure of the esophagus to acidic gastric juice may lead to ulceration of the esophagus, reduction of esophageal diameter caused by scarring of ulcers, changes in the esophageal mucosa that increase the likelihood of cancer (a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus).
Acid Reflux Medicines
Treatments or medicine for acid reflux are based on reducing or controlling the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Which medicine to take is depended on the result of the diagnosis. This medication should be consumed only under the prescription and supervision of a doctor. For this digestive disorder, some of the medications used are:
Antacids: Antacids help to neutralize the acid produced by the stomach. Some antacid medicines are based on magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide. Other medicines are: calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.
Histamine H2 receptor blockers: There are medicines that reduce the production of gastric acid in the stomach. They include: cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine and nizatidine.
Proton pump inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors are drugs that block the production of gastric acid and help heal the esophagus. Examples of medications are omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole and rabeprazole. They decrease the level of acid produced more than H2 blockers.
Surgery: Patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease who do not respond well to drug therapy can undergo surgery. A procedure called fundoplication improves the effectiveness of the gastroesophageal sphincter and prevents stomach acid from returning to the esophagus.
Phytotherapy: Some herbal medicines help control the symptoms of heartburn. Among them we can mention:
- Ginger- Beldroega
- Carrots and potatoes
- Coralline Algae
- Mint Leaves
- Raspberry leaves
- Licorice- Chamomile
It is important that prior to the use of any treatment a doctor is aware. Self-medication is always dangerous. Hence, you should consult your doctor first before taking any medicine.
Natural Home Remedies for Heartburn
An excellent home remedy for heartburn is eating 1 toast or 2 cracker crackers because they absorb the acid that is causing acidity in the larynx and throat, decreasing the burning sensation.
Other options are sucking a pure lemon at the time of heartburn because the lemon, despite being acidic, decreases the acidity of the stomach, or eating a slice of raw potato because the potato is also able to neutralize the acidity of the stomach by fighting the discomfort in few instants. Check out how to use reflexology to relieve heartburn.
However, there are other recipes that can be easily prepared at home and used throughout the day, especially in those who suffer with acid reflux and live having bouts of heartburn. Here is a list of 8 commonly used home remedies for heartburn:
Baking soda when diluted in water has an alkalizing effect on the digestive tract and therefore decreases the acidity of the stomach, reducing inflammation of the esophagus and relieving heartburn discomfort.
Baking soda neutralizes heartburn and immediately relieves heartburn. However, it should not be taken by anyone who has the medical history of high blood pressure.
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda;
- 100 ml of water.
Method of preparation:
Mix the ingredients and take this mixture in small sips.
Ginger tea contains antioxidants and other substances that help relieve inflammation of the esophagus, in addition to reducing contractions of the stomach, which ends up reducing the sensation of heartburn.
- 2 cm sliced ginger root;
- 2 cups water.
Method of preparation:
Put the ginger and water in a pan and bring to the boil. Then turn off the heat and let the pan capped for at least 30 minutes. Finally, remove the pieces of ginger and drink a cup of tea 20 minutes before each meal.
Espinheira-santa (Holy-Thorn) tea
Espinheira-santa herb is popularly used in South America for the treatment of heartburn and gastric disorder. The tea made using Espinheira-santa herb has digestive properties, which in addition to improving digestion, also relieve heartburn.
- 1 cup boiling water;
- 1 tablespoon of espinheira-santa.
Method of preparation:
Boil the water and add the herb, letting it stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain and drink without sweetening, 2 to 3 times a day.
Fennel tea also contains excellent anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve inflammation of the stomach, relieving the burning sensation in the throat.
In addition, as it aids in emptying the stomach, it can be used in reflux cases to lessen the onset of heartburn crises.
- 1 cup boiling water;
- 1 tablespoon of fennel.
Method of preparation:
Add the fennel to the boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes, then strain and drink 2 to 3 times a day or 20 minutes before making a heavier meal.
Those who do not like tea can choose to take a freshly made pear juice because it also helps to fight heartburn and digestive disorder. To prepare just beat 2 ripe pears with a little water in the blender and if necessary, add a few drops of lemon so that the juice does not get dark.
The pear is semi-acidic, rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and iron that help dilute stomach acid and relieve discomfort and burning caused by heartburn.
In addition, other fruits, which have the same properties, that can be used to make a juice and include the ripe water banana, apple (red) and melon.
Eat 2 slices of French bread or bun loaf. In addition to absorbing some of the acid that is causing heartburn, the bread helps protect the walls of the stomach.
Eat a raw potato or drink its juice. To make the potato juice, grate a large potato and then squeeze it against a strainer to extract its juice.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Acid Reflux
In some cases, acid reflux occurs due to the low amount of acid in the stomach. In this case, the ideal is to ingest one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water. Apple cider vinegar helps to balance the pH level in your stomach by neutralizing the acid of the stomach, thereby preventing the acid reflux to happen.
Need instant relief form heart burn, check this:
Home Remedies for Heartburn during Pregnancy
Pregnancy is one of the most exciting periods in a woman’s life. During these nine months, she goes through intense emotions and makes many discoveries, some pleasant and others not so much as for example weight gain, nausea, heartburn, etc. During pregnancy the occurrence of heartburn becomes much more frequent than in normal situations. This is a problem which, while having no worrying consequences, is sufficiently unpleasant and troublesome to have to be mitigated.
Why Do Women Have Heartburn During Pregnancy?
Also called reflux, heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation in the stomach and throat. It occurs in pregnancy mainly because the woman’s uterus is in growing, pressing the gut and the stomach. During gestation there is also an increase in the hormone called progesterone in the bloodstream together and the accumulation of gas in the stomach, which makes digestion slower.
Heartburn in pregnancy usually begins to appear from the second trimester of gestation.
To reduce the burning sensation in the stomach, you need to make some changes in your diet. Here is a list of foods a pregnant woman should eat and avoid for fighting heartburn or the problem of acid reflux.
Bad foods (to avoid) for acid reflux during pregnancy:
- Citrus fruits;
- Spicy foods;
- Foods with lots of condiments,
- Fried foods;
- Soft drinks
- Alcoholic beverages and
- Canned juices.
These foods encourage heartburn because they have ingredients like citric acid, fat, preservatives and alcohol that are very harmful to those who suffer from acid reflux or heartburn.
Best foods for acid reflux during pregnancy:
Once you have eliminated all the bad foods you should replace them with other really healthy, nutritious foods that will help you combat heartburn or acid reflux during pregnancy:
- Always eat, as possible, fruits such as: apple, pear, well-ripe peach, papaya, grapes, bananas and mango;
- Eat every 2 to 3 hours and in small amounts, that is, equal to the diet used by those who wants to lose weight;
- Chew slowly and very well to facilitate the digestion process of food;
- Eat plenty of salad, especially the leaves that help in the digestion process and still offer the feeling of satiety and lightness to the body.
Other measures that help relieve heartburn in pregnancy:
- Avoid drinking liquids during meals.
- Make 5 to 6 meals throughout the day. It is very important to chew the food well.
- Avoid eating before bed, because when you lie down, stomach acids rise more easily.
- Always sleeping in a more comfortable position, for example, semi-seated position may be a good option, for this, you can make a backrest on the bed with some pillows, or even look for anti-reflux pillows, as they help keep the head elevated and prevent acids from rising during the night.
- Chewing gum after meals stimulates the salivary glands and increases the production of saliva.
- Wear comfortable, wide clothing that does not strain the stomach.
4 Quick home remedies for heartburn during pregnancy
A loaf of bread and crackers with water can help to relieve heartburn in pregnancy as they absorb stomach acid. So when you feel that heartburn, just eat a piece of bread or some crackers.
Another home remedy for heartburn during pregnancy is solely on consuming an apple (without the peel) at times when you experience heartburn and after meals. The apple helps to avoid the feeling of heartburn because it helps to push the acidic content that resides in the esophagus to the stomach, significantly decreasing the sensation of heartburn.
Mint is another home remedy that has proven to fight the problem of heart during pregnancy. The mint is a medicinal plant that is good for the stomach and even for the appetite, in addition to being one of the tastiest teas. To prevent or combat the actions of heartburn just make the following recipe:
- Take 2 grams of dried mint leaves (or if possible, use fresh leaves),
- Boil 1 cup of water.
After boiling, place the mint leaves and leave the mixture to melt for about 10 minutes. At the end of this term, strain and drink the tea without sugar. You can add honey if needed.
It is also proven that the consumption of coffee at the beginning of the day, honey, natural yogurts, whole-grain toast or cookies can help prevent heartburn, being foods “lighter” and easier to digest.
In more extreme cases, it may be necessary to resort to medicines. A magnesium-based medicine may help decrease heartburn in pregnancy, but beware: only your doctor can tell you the best medicine. Do not take anything without medical authorization, as some medicines have high amounts of sodium and can impair the development of your baby.
How to prevent Heartburn/Acid Reflux in general?
Changes in the habit of life can result in major improvements to the symptoms of heartburn and burning of the stomach. Some prevention tips are:
- Maintain a healthy weight. This may include regular physical exercise and eating control.
- Avoid foods that are too spicy or fatty. This includes reduction in consumption of chocolate, peppers; fry in general, onion, garlic and coffee.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables, but be careful with citrus fruits, mint, tomatoes and tomato sauce.
- Avoid the consumption of soft drinks.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes, as these agents have proven to worsen the gastric disorder.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing or belts in the abdominal area.
- Do not lie down or sit down right after your meals.
- In some cases it is necessary to raise the pillow at bedtime, so that the head is slightly higher.
Often heartburn is related to the patient’s emotional states, which contribute to an exacerbated production of gastric juice. In that sense, alternative therapies and relaxation can help. The aromatherapy, massages, acupuncture, hypnosis and relaxation techniques have been described as adjuvant in the treatment for heartburn.
For the patient with recurrent heartburn or chronic heartburn it is important to see a doctor because these symptoms may be due to Gastresophageal Reflux Disease or another disease.
Follow your doctor’s instructions correctly when taking the medicines. If any uncomfortable adverse events occur, ask to change the medication. Always be aware of which factors trigger your heartburn crises and try to avoid them. Practicing exercise and avoiding harmful foods can be beneficial to treatment.
Pain from heartburn can be confused with angina pain. However, it differs from this because it is not related to physical exertion and usually worsens when the person lies down.
If the symptoms are accompanied by nausea, dizziness or shortness of breath, or if chest pain radiates to the arm or jaw, seek medical attention immediately as these symptoms may indicate a heart attack.