Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest, which is caused by stomach acid traveling back up the esophagus and into the throat. This can happen several times throughout the day and can be an unpleasant experience if it occurs more than a couple of times per day. Heartburn is not a disease, but is simply the body’s way of coping with the chemicals that are present when you digest food. If it happens too often, then the stomach acids will damage the sensitive lining of the esophagus, known as the esophageal sphincter.
Finding out what causes heartburn is simple; you just have to know the foods which set off heartburn for most people. There are several over-the-counter medications that can be used to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced, such as Prilosec, Pepcid, and Tagamet. There are also natural remedies available which combine ingredients from your home and local garden to create an antacid, such as baking soda and apple cider vinegar.
However, if the burning sensation occurs too frequently, then your stomach acids are escaping the esophagus and causing a chronic case of heartburn. You could experience heartburn between meals or after you eat a large quantity of foods, such as when you are eating out at a restaurant. Sometimes, heartburn is a side effect of certain medications, such as aspirin, certain antibiotics and antihistamines. In addition, if you are suffering from acid reflux disease, you could also experience heartburn periodically, even if you do not have this condition. Generally, people suffer from heartburn in varying frequencies, some experiencing the discomfort only once in a while and others constantly.
If you have heartburn, then the burning sensation that occurs is actually the reflux of gastric acid from the stomach into the esophagus. The esophageal sphincter – located at the junction between the stomach and the esophagus – helps maintain the stomach content in its place. When the esophageal sphincter is weakened by frequent acid reflux, it allows stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus, thus causing the discomfort. A weak or damaged sphincter can weaken over time and cause the problem to become chronic. Other factors that contribute to the weakening of the sphincter could include physiological problems, such as the buildup of fluid under the skin of the esophagus and the buildup of mucous in the throat, or poor diet and bad habits.
There are a number of possible causes of heartburn, but the common denominator of all of them is the weakening or malfunctioning of the gastroesophageal sphincter. Because it is possible to weaken or damage this important valve with frequent or chronic heartburn, it is necessary to know what causes heartburn so that appropriate treatment can be administered. If you’re unsure whether or not your GERD has a connection to one of the possible causes of heartburn mentioned above, it’s best to visit your doctor.
Another possible cause of heartburn that is more likely than others to cause symptoms is nighttime eating. You may have had experience heartburn several times a week while on an overnight vacation, but if you were to return the next day, you might experience heartburn again. Because it takes longer for stomach acids to travel to the esophagus, eating late at night can increase the amount of acid produced. This in turn can lead to esophagitis – a painful, swollen condition that can lead to permanent damage to the esophagus. To avoid experiencing heartburn during your next trip away from home, plan a little extra time to take a nap if you feel the need to eat before bedtime – or better yet, prepare some overnight snacks to bring with you if you can’t stomach the wait.