Heartburn is a very common medical condition in which patient feels burning and pressure generally in chest area behind breastbone. The pressure or pain starts form the chest and moves up to neck and throat. It is basically a gastric problem caused by gastric acid and is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. A patient having heartburn frequently may have to face other complications like ulcer if not treated properly.
Causes of Heartburn
Gastric acid is a source to digest food intake. Food from mouth passes through food pipe and before entering into stomach has to pass through a tight muscle at the lower end of food pipe. This muscle helps preventing backward movement of food. If this muscle is not completely closed after passing food, strong stomach acid can damage the lower part of food pipe causing heartburn. The reasons for incomplete closure of muscle may include use of spicy foods, juices, cigarettes, some typical medication, improper body position, certain medical condition, tight clothing, increased pressure in abdomen, some specific foods, alcohols, etc.
Symptoms of Heartburn
Heartburn normally starts within an hour after meal and is severe when lying down or bending or trying to pass stool. Symptoms of heartburn include;
- Burning sensation in chest
- Bitter or sour taste because of backward movement of small quantity of food or gastric acid. It normally occurs if person lies down just after taking food.
- Hindrance during respiration is observed.
- Feeling of lump in throat
- For prolonged problem, swallowing may become difficult.
Under severe conditions of the problem, the patient may face loss of weight, food pipe bleeding, dehydration, vomiting, and drops of blood in stool.
Diagnosis of Heartburn
Heartburn under severe condition could be sometimes mistaken as heart attack. Therefore, doctor must be consulted for proper diagnosis of heartburn. The symptoms of heartburn are very obvious and doctor may not recommend extensive tests. But under certain conditions, initial diagnosis may not be very clear and if clear results are not obtained from initial medication, some tests must be performed which may include;
- Gastrointestinal endoscope in which camera is passed through mouth to examine the food pipe and stomach.
- Upper GI series involves taking x-rays of food pipe and stomach after a specific liquid is drunk by patient.
- 24-hour pH monitoring by passing a tube through nose into food pipe and pH is observed for 24 hours.
- Esophageal manometry which measures weakness of LES muscle.
Treatment and Prevention
For immediate relief, patient should stand upright, swallow saliva, drink water or take antacids. Medicines like H2 receptor can be used for effective results. Sometimes surgery is done to relieve the patient.
If following preventive measures are adopted, heartburn can be easily avoided.
- No heavy meals
- No caffeine and cigarettes
- Avoid chocolates, peppermints, beverages, alcohol, fried and spicy foods.
- Lose weight.
- Wear loose clothes
- Don’t lie down up to 3 hours after the meal. To prevent nighttime heartburn head-side of the bed should be raised up to about 6 inches.
Heartburn is a very common problem faced by millions of people. This is a gastric problem caused by stomach acid. If left untreated, it could lead to serious stomach problems like ulcer. Some simple techniques may help relieving condition of mild heartburn, but expert opinion must be obtained. Preventive measures can also be helpful to avoid it.