Heartburn - Topic Overview
Heartburn occurs when food and
stomach juices back up (reflux) into the esophagus,
which is the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach. This process is
called gastroesophageal reflux . Common causes of reflux
- Incomplete closing of the valve (the
lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) between the
esophagus and the stomach.
- Foods and
drinks, such as chocolate, peppermint, fried foods, fatty foods, sugars, coffee, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. After heartburn occurs, the backflow of
stomach juices can cause the esophagus to become sensitive to other foods, such
as citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, garlic, and onions. Eating these foods
may cause more heartburn.
- Pressure on the stomach caused by
obesity, frequent bending over and lifting, tight clothes, straining with bowel
movements, vigorous exercise, and pregnancy.
- Smoking and use of
other tobacco products.
- Prescription and nonprescription
medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, prednisone,
iron, potassium, antihistamines, and sleeping pills.
hiatal hernia , which occurs when a small portion of the stomach pushes upward
through the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the lungs from the
- Stress, which can increase the amount
of acid your stomach makes and cause your stomach to empty more slowly.
Mild heartburn occurs about
once a month. Moderate heartburn occurs about once a week.
heartburn occurs every day and can cause problems such as trouble swallowing,
bleeding, or weight loss. Heartburn with other symptoms, such as hoarseness, a
feeling that food is stuck in your throat, tightness in your throat, a
hoarse voice, wheezing, asthma, dental problems, or
bad breath, may be caused by a more serious problem, such as
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A persistent
inflammation of the lining of the esophagus occurs in GERD and can lead to
other health problems. Heartburn may also be related to an infection with
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria.
Persistent heartburn symptoms can be a sign of a more serious medical
condition, such as severe inflammation of the esophagus or cancer of the
stomach or esophagus.
Heartburn is more serious when it occurs
with abdominal pain or bleeding.
- Abdominal pain, especially pain located
directly below the breastbone, may be a sign of more serious problems, such as
peptic ulcer disease,
gallbladder disease, a tear in the esophagus, or
inflammation of the stomach (gastritis). For more information, see
Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger or
Abdominal Pain, Age 12 and Older.
of blood may mean bleeding in the digestive tract, often from the esophagus
or stomach. If you have bleeding in the esophagus, stomach, or part of the
small intestine attached to the stomach (duodenum), stools may be dark red or
black and tarry. Large amounts of bleeding can lead to
shock, a life-threatening condition. For more
information, see the topic
Nausea and Vomiting, Age 12 and Older.