Many people experience heartburn every once in a while. While not uncommon and usually harmless, heartburn can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. It’s important to understand the symptoms of heartburn and how to recognize whether it is cause for alarm or a sign of something more dangerous.
Heartburn is a condition marked by a painful burning sensation in the chest. The pain is usually centered just below or behind the breastbone, but it often rises to spread to the neck or throat. Most cases of heartburn are not serious and can be treated at home with over-the-counter products and lifestyle changes. However, frequent or severe heartburn may be an indicator of a more serious problem.
The key symptom of heartburn is burning chest pain that is usually centered near the breastbone. This pain can spread up towards the neck and throat. Also, heartburn pain usually gets worse if a person lies down or bends over. Heartburn typically occurs after eating and may feel worse at night.
Heartburn is caused by the failure of the esophageal sphincter to function properly. This band of muscle is located at the bottom of the esophagus. Normally, the esophageal sphincter relaxes while you eat so that food and drink can get to your stomach. Then, it is supposed to close again to prevent those items from coming back up. Heartburn occurs when the esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, allowing the stomach acid to come back up through the esophagus.
There are several things which may increase your risk of heartburn, including:
Anxiety and stress may trigger heartburn or make it worse. Some individuals have found alternative treatments like massage, aromatherapy or hypnosis to be helpful in preventing and dealing with heartburn.
In addition, you can make some basic lifestyle changes which can help to prevent heartburn, such as:
The majority of heartburn cases can be treated with over-the-counter medications, including:
Some cases of heartburn may be chronic or more severe and require treatment from a doctor. If you have heartburn more than twice a week, difficulty swallowing or your symptoms are persisting even though you are utilizing over-the-counter medications, make an appointment with your doctor to explore medical treatment options or to find out if an underlying condition is causing your heartburn. It’s important to have frequent heartburn treated since it could lead to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which may require surgery or other procedures to treat.
Finally, make sure you don’t confuse your heartburn with general chest pain, as this could be a sign of a heart attack. Seek emergency medical attention if you feel severe chest pain along with difficulty breathing, arm pain or jaw pain.