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Heartburn - General Understanding
What is heartburn?
Heartburn typically feels like a burning pain in the middle of your chest that moves up your throat. Heartburn is sometimes described as food coming back in the mouth, leaving an acid or bitter taste. Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. It occurs when the lining of the esophagus - the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach - is exposed to acid from the stomach, causing irritation.
Heaving heartburn every once in a while is something almost everyone experiences. But you should know that if your heartburn occurs 2 or more times per week, it can be a sign of a more serious problem called gastro esophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn usually occurs when the valve at the top of the stomach does not close the way it should. Normally, this valve, called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, relaxes and opens when you swallow food and then promptly closes to keep acid out of the esophagus. If the LES is weak or opens at the wrong time, stomach acid can reflux into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
What can affect the LES or cause heartburn?
Heartburn can also be caused by other medical conditions, including if your stomach produces too much acid, if you digest food too slowly, or if your body´s natural defense mechanisms, like productions of saliva, are not working.
How common is heartburn?
As many as 33% to 44% of Americans Experience heartburn at least once a month and up to 13% of Americans have heartburn each day. The likelihood of having heartburn increases with age and among women who are pregnant.
How can my doctor find out what´s causing my heartburn?
Upper GI series is a common test that x-rays the esophagus, the first part of the small intestine, and the stomach. The patient swallows a harmless liquid mixture, allowing the doctor to locate strictures or scar tissue in the esophagus and rule out other diagnoses, such as peptic ulcers.
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Endoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which your doctor places a small tube with a tiny video camera on the end, called an endoscope, through your mouth, and into your esophagus to look for damage resulting from acid reflux. This test is usually performed with the aid of sedatives. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a specialist for this procedure.
Can the foods I eat cause heartburn?
Although some foods can affect people in different ways, all foods cause the stomach to produce acid. Here is a list of foods and beverages that may aggravate your symptoms, and probably should be avoided:
Are there lifestyle changes I can make to reduce heartburn?
Can certain medicines cause heartburn?
Yes, certain drugs can contribute to your heartburn. Be sure your doctors knows about all of the drugs and supplements you are taking.
What are the medical treatments to relieve heartburn?
Although there are several possible causes of heartburn associated with GERD, they all involve stomach acid, so no matter what the cause may be, reducing stomach acid lead to heartburn is divided into 3 different classes of drugs: antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Your doctor knows which drug is most appropriate for your situation.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antacids, which about 27% of adult Americans take more than twice a month, are used primarily for heartburn. Unfortunately, they can provide only limited, short-term relief. If you´re using an OTC antacid more than twice a week, it may be a sign of a more serious problem, and you should see your doctor.
H 2 blockers, which are available OTC and by prescription, get their name from the way they block one stimulus of acid production. H 2 blockers reduce the amount of acid that is produced in the stomach, but not as much as proton pump inhibitors. If you continue to suffer frequent and severe heartburn while taking an H 2 blockers, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may develop a different treatment plan.
Proton pump inhibitors are the most effective medicine available for decreasing stomach acid production. That´s because protons pump or proton pumps inhibitors effectively block the final stage of acid production regardless of stimuli. This relieves the burning feeling caused by an acid-related disorder and results in healing of the affected area. Taken only once a day, proton pump inhibitors work to effectively relieve heartburn associated with GERD for 24 hours.
How long will I need to take my medicine?
The length of your treatment depends on how often you get heartburn, how serious your acid reflux is, and how your body responds to the medicine. Some people feel better very soon after they start taking their medicine. Other need to take all of your medicine as directed. Only your doctor can know for sure how long you will need to take your medicine.
Can heartburn require surgery?
A small number of people with heartburn may need surgery because of complications and poor response to medical treatment. The surgical procedure, called fundoplication, improves the natural barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, which prevents acid backup. Surgery should be relied on only after all other treatment options have proved to be unsuccessful.
What are the complications of long-term heartburn and reflux?
Left untreated, stomach acid can repeatedly reflux into the esophagus, resulting any of the following serious complications:
What other conditions may be associated with acid reflux disease?
Can heartburn affect my quality of life?
All of the complications caused by heartburn can significantly impact your quality of life and require you to make long-term dietary and lifestyle changes. In some cases, heartburn sufferers may have a lower quality of life than people with congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, or diabetes.