Heartburn is the most common symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux. A sphincter (specialized muscle), known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), is located at the end of the esophagus and opens during swallowing to allow food to pass into the stomach. The LES muscle then closes quickly to prevent the return (reflux) of food and stomach juices back into the esophagus.
However, the LES muscle does not always work perfectly. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES muscle either relaxes inappropriately or is weak. This allows stomach juices to back up, or reflux, into the esophagus, creating heartburn. When the acid contents from the stomach regularly back up into the esophagus, a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs. Heartburn is sometimes called acid indigestion and usually occurs after meals. In addition to heartburn, symptoms of acid reflux may include persistent sore throat, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma, heart-like chest pain and a feeling of a lump in the throat.
There are several factors that influence the frequency and severity of acid reflux: the ability of the LES muscle to open and close properly, the type and amount of stomach juices that reflux up into the esophagus, the ability of the stomach to empty properly, the clearing action of the esophagus, the acid-neutralizing effect of saliva and other factors.
Symptoms of Heartburn
Heartburn is a symptom of another digestive disorder, and not a disorder by itself. For example, heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux is a medical condition, with heartburn as a possible symptom of that condition.
Many people have different heartburn triggers, but most people have similar heartburn symptoms.
A burning sensation in the chest
A burning feeling in the throat
Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
When the contents enter the back of the throat, a person will often have a sour or bitter taste in their mouth.
Wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms
What causes GERD?
The reason some people develop GERD is still unclear. However, research shows that in people with GERD, the LES relaxes while the rest of the esophagus is working. Anatomical abnormalities such as a hiatal hernia may also contribute to GERD. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm, the muscle wall that separates the stomach from the chest. Normally, the diaphragm helps the LES keep acid from rising up into the esophagus. When a hiatal hernia is present, acid reflux can occur more easily. A hiatal hernia can occur in people of any age and is most often a normal finding in otherwise healthy people over age 50. Most of the time, a hiatal hernia produces no symptoms.
Other factors that may contribute to GERD include
Common foods that can worsen reflux symptoms include
Tips to Control Heartburn (Reflux)
The following are general measures the patient can take to reduce reflux: