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Easing the Burn: Recognize Causes of Heartburn

After a big meal, many people experience a feeling of burning behind the breastbone that seems to extend all the way back up to the mouth. Although it feels like the heart and lungs are on fire, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart at all.

Heartburn can be a symptom of GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. More than 60 million American adults experience acid reflux and heartburn at least once a month. Roughly 25 million adults suffer daily from heartburn and experience severe refluxes.

When stomach acid rises and comes in contact with the esophagus, or the tube in the throat that connects the mouth to the stomach, it can cause irritation. This irritation creates a burning sensation. Sometimes a foul taste occurs in the mouth, and sometimes it can feel like food is at the back of the throat.

Heartburn can be caused by a few different factors.

• A person may eat a meal that simply causes stomach upset. Sometimes spicy foods or rich meals can be the culprit.

• When the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES) is weakened or relaxed, it cannot do its job of keeping stomach acid inside of the stomach.

• Pressure on the stomach, such as tight clothing or bending over, may result in acid reflux.

• Stress can cause an over-abundance of stomach acid and a slowing down of the emptying of the stomach.

• Eating large meals right before bedtime.

Oftentimes, making dietary changes or modifications to habits can alleviate heartburn. Reducing the consumption of fatty, fried foods or foods that can weaken the LES may alleviate symptoms.

Individuals who have very frequent heartburn and acid reflux may need to take medication to help their symptoms. Proton-pump inhibitors are a series of medications that reduce the production of gastric acid. There are other ways to alleviate symptoms.

• Eat smaller meals and more slowly.

• Don't eat large meals before bed. Wait at least three hours after eating to retire for the night.

• Stop smoking because nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter.

• Wear looser-fitting clothes.

• Lose weight because even a few extra pounds can contribute to heartburn.

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