Ever chow down at a family picnic, come home, shower, lie down, and feel a burning pain in your chest and acid crawling up your throat like a red-hot snake? These are symptoms of the ever-popular heartburn!
Rodger A. Liddle, MD, professor of medicine and gastroenterologist at Duke University, tells WebMD that many favorite summer foods -- such as tomatoes, barbeque, cocktails or beer, and citrus -- can make acid reflux worse, although they don't "cause" this much-dreaded condition.
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease.
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This can create a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone.
With gravity's help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach -- below...
More than 50 million adults experience heartburn more than two days a week. Half of those get it daily.
Although it has become the staple of commercials and sitcoms, heartburn can limit activities and productivity. And to those lying there in the dark or burping through a long afternoon meeting, heartburn is far from a joking matter. In its most severe forms it can eat away at the esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.
Better to recognize heartburn and avoid or treat it.
Causes of Heartburn
To digest food, the stomach is flooded with acid. Between the stomach and the esophagus is a sphincter muscle that lets the food get to the stomach but then closes to keep the stomach acid from flowing back up the throat. If this muscle becomes loose or doesn't work properly, the stomach contents can backflow into the esophagus, making it burn.
Or you can eat foods that are acidic themselves that can irritate tiny areas of irritation you already have on the walls of your esophagus.
The body tries to counter this not only with the sphincter, explains Liddle, but with saliva, which is alkaline. But sometimes these mechanisms are overcome by circumstance. Some factors that make heartburn more likely: