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Digestive Health & Heartburn

Digestive Health & Heartburn

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the center of your chest. It happens when stomach acid moves up and into the esophagus. Sometimes, acid reaches the mouth causing a sour taste. Unlike the stomach, acid can hurt the esophagus because it does not have the same protection. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about heartburn. Tell him/her how often you experience it and if you have any shortness of breath after eating, which can be a symptom of heartburn as well. (6-8)


What causes heartburn?

Heartburn can happen for many reasons. (6-8)

Certain foods, called “triggers,” can cause the stomach to make too much acid, including caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, fried, spicy and acidic foods, chocolate and peppermint.

A weak valve at the bottom of the esophagus that does not close after food goes into the stomach or opens on its own may cause heartburn because stomach acid can move up and into the esophagus. Smoking and using tobacco, as well as drinking alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, can weaken the valve.

Extra pressure on the valve and the stomach can also cause heartburn. Things that increase pressure include lying down or bending over soon after eating, eating large meals, extra weight and pregnancy. Some prescription and nonprescription medications, such as steroids and aspirin, have been shown to cause irritation in the stomach and cause heartburn.


What are the different kinds of heartburn?

Heartburn can be described in these ways. (6-9)

Occasional or infrequent heartburn happens less than two times a week.

Predictable heartburn also happens less than two times each week, but is predictable because its cause is mostly tied to trigger foods that are known in advance.

Frequent heartburn takes place two or more times a week and can be tied to trigger foods, the amount of food,the time of day and other causes, such as extra weight, tobacco use and pregnancy. Heartburn can be both its own condition and a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is more serious.


What OTC medications treat the different kinds of heartburn?

Antacid tablets work to relieve occasional and predictable heartburn symptoms by balancing out the acid in your stomach. They act fast and provide short-term relief. (6-9)

H2 blockers are used to treat predictable and frequent heartburn symptoms and for people diagnosed with GERD to lower how much acid the stomach makes. This medication takes longer to start working but gives longer-lasting symptom relief. (6-9)

Proton pump inhibitors (PPls) are also used for predictable and frequent heartburn symptoms and for people diagnosed with GERD by lowering the amount of stomach acid and healing the lining of the esophagus. PPls take the longest to start working but provide the longest symptom relief. (6-9)


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