Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine



What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a common condition among individuals when stomach acid is forced back up the esophagus. When heartburn occurs a feeling of warmth or even burning may occur in your chest. Frequent heartburn can signal a more serious problem however, a little heartburn after a heavy, acidic meal once in a while is not cause for concern.

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid, which is used to digest food, when makes its way back up the esophagus because of an inflamed or relaxed esophageal sphincter which is supposed to close completely once food has traveled the stomach. Stomach acid is extremely potent and can cause damage to the body. The stomach is protected by a layer of mucous but the esophagus does not have a protective lining covering the tube so when acid is forced back up symptoms of heartburn occur.

What factors increase the chances of heartburn?

  • Certain foods and beverages are associated with heartburn symptoms such as fatty foods, chocolate, spicy foods, acidic foods, caffeine (including coffee, sodas and tea), alcohol and peppermint flavored foods
  • Lying down immediately after a meal can cause acid to flow in an upward direction into the esophagus
  • Applying pressure to the stomach such as with lifting, straining, coughing and wearing tight clothing can increase the chances of heartburn. Also women who are pregnant may be more prone to heartburn
  • Smoking can also increase the possibility of heartburn
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes

If heartburn is experienced several times a week and if heartburn persists after antacids wear off you should seek medical advice to correct these discomforts.

What are the treatment options for heartburn?

The common treatment options for heartburn include:

  • Antacids
  • Acid blockers (H2 receptor blockers)
  • Proton pump inhibitors