What is heartburn?

Heartburn is the sensation of burning and pain in the region behind the breastbone (sternum) and in the upper abdomen. It is typically a symptom of a condition known as acid indigestion or acid reflux. The burning pain of heartburn is the result of stomach acid moving upward into the back of the throat, causing inflammation. Most often, heartburn occurs during or right after eating or when you lie down too soon after eating.

Heartburn is a common disorder in the United States. In some people, it is a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and in others, it may be an isolated event not related to disease. It is common for people who are obese to suffer from heartburn due to increased pressure on the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, which normally prevents reflux.

Heartburn typically develops after you eat or drink certain types of food. Most commonly, heartburn results from overeating, drinking alcohol while eating, or consuming greasy or spicy foods. Heartburn can also occur if the valve between the stomach and the esophagus becomes dysfunctional and allows stomach contents to enter the esophagus.

Some people with heartburn have mild symptoms such as a slight burning after eating that subsides quickly, while others may have stomach acid that reaches the mouth along with a burning feeling in the abdomen, chest and neck. Heartburn can be treated effectively with medications that reduce stomach acid or help the stomach empty its contents faster. You can reduce your risk of heartburn by avoiding overly spicy or fried foods, not overeating, eating at least two hours before bedtime, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Heartburn alone is rarely a serious condition; however, epigastric pain may be a sign of a life-threatening condition such as a heart attack. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms such as severe breathing problems, chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations; or if you vomit blood or black material (resembling coffee grounds).

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for heartburn but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

Heartburn is caused by the backward movement of stomach contents into the esophagus, which may result in a number of symptoms. The symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.... Read more about heartburnsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn is commonly the result of overeating, drinking alcohol while eating, or consuming greasy or spicy foods. It can also be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Once you experience heartburn, it may never return or it may recur frequently. Heartburn can also result if the valve between the stomach and the esophagus becomes dysfunctional and allows stomach contents to enter the esophagus.... Read more about heartburncauses

TREATMENTS

How is heartburn treated?

Over-the-counter antacids are the mainstay of treatment for heartburn. Other medications that decrease stomach acid, such as proton pump inhibitors and histamine H2-receptor antagonists, are also effective treatments.... Read more about heartburntreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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