What causes heartburn?


Quick Answer

Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophageal tube, MedicineNet states. The esophagus's lower end contains a muscular ring called sphincter that opens to allow food into the stomach. A weakened sphincter may not close properly, releasing stomach contents back into the esophagus.

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Full Answer

Factors such as obesity, constipation and pregnancy can place excess pressure on the stomach and interfere with the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to contract, according to WebMD. Frequently overeating may also overtax the stomach's capacity and relax the sphincter, especially when the diet is high in fatty and acidic foods. Smoking, stress and inadequate sleep may also contribute to heartburn.

Heartburn is the burning feeling in the chest, usually behind the breast bone, triggered by stomach acid irritating the esophageal tube, MedicineNet explains. Lying sideways or flat often exacerbates the burning sensation, and an individual may feel as though food is trapped in the throat. Heartburn normally occurs periodically after specific meals, and chronic, recurrent symptoms may lead to a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

People suffering from severe heartburn with irregular symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cold sweats or dizziness, are advised to seek medical attention, MedicineNet states. Most cases of heartburn are treatable with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and managing weight. Doctors may suggest keeping a journal of heartburn episodes to help individuals pinpoint trigger foods and make the appropriate dietary changes.

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