What Is Heartburn? What Causes Heartburn?

What Is Heartburn? What Causes Heartburn?

What Is Heartburn? What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn is a very common symptom created by acid reflux, a condition where some of the stomach contents (including stomach acid) are forced back up into the esophagus, creating a burning pain in the lower chest. Persistent acid reflux that happens more than twice a week results in the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

This page summarizes some of the information about heartburn that is covered in more detail on our page about acid reflux in general.

What is heartburn?
Heartburn is felt when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus (food pipe or gullet), down which food moves from the mouth to the stomach.

At least 15 million Americans experience heartburn – the symptom of acid reflux – every day, according to estimates from the American College of Gastroenterology.

Learn more about stomach fluid, the sphincter between esophagus and stomach, and how reflux can be harmful.

What causes heartburn?Overweight man smoking
Lifestyle risk factors associated with heartburn include being overweight and smoking.
Most people are occasionally affected by heartburn, which is rarely a significant cause for concern. Recurrent acid reflux, however, results in the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD) and can have serious consequences for health as well as possibly indicating other underlying health issues..

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is seen in people of all ages, and the cause is often attributable to a lifestyle factor, but it can also be due to unavoidable factors such as anatomical abnormalities affecting the sphincter (valve) at the top of the stomach.

Go to more detail about the causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Tests and diagnosis of heartburn
If a person experiences symptoms of acid reflux frequently, they should consult their family doctor, who may refer them to a gastroenterologist – a specialist in gut medicine – for further investigation.

More about GERD diagnosis.

Treatment and prevention of heartburn
The main treatment for repeated heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease is to reduce the production of stomach acid by using drugs called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Find out more about PPIs, over-the-counter options for acid reflux, and other treatment options.
Recent developments on heartburn from MNT news
Heartburn, stomach acid medication linked to serious kidney damage
Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors – popular drugs commonly used to treated heartburn, acid reflux and ulcers – could lead to kidney damage and severe kidney disease.
Lifestyle control of heartburn
Changes to lifestyle or behavior can prevent or improve heartburn symptoms.

More information about prevention through lifestyle.

Our acid reflux page has more in-depth information on all the topics introduced here.


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