You’re at your favorite Mexican restaurant in town with your family, sitting outside on the patio, taking in the scenery. You’re sipping a margarita while eating chips as you dip them into a homemade, fiery salsa. Your waiter serves you your entree —a chimichanga smothered in chili and nacho cheese with a side of jalapenos. You dig in, savoring every single, delicious morsel. You’re in heaven as you devour every bit of it, leaving your plate impeccably clean. You’re overcome with a great sense of satisfaction as you get your check and pay for the meal. Unfortunately, you might also be paying for your meal later.
That’s because a couple of hours later when you’re at home sitting on the couch, you start feeling an uncomfortable, burning sensation in the middle of your chest and in your throat. While it has nothing to do with your heart, heartburn mimics a heart attack. Luckily, it’s not life threatening, but rather an uncomfortable, common condition affecting more than 40% of all Americans at least once a month.
Now, if you have frequent heartburn, it may be a sign of a more serious problem called gastroesophaegeal reflux disease (GERD) — a chronic condition of irritating stomach acids that back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus.
Heartburn and Your Digestive System
In order to understand heartburn, you need to understand how your digestive system works. It all begins with your mouth, where food is chewed and mixed with saliva. From there, food travels to the esophagus and moves food to the stomach. The esophagus and stomach are connected by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which works like a valve by opening to allow food to pass to the stomach and closing to keep food and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus. However, if the sphincter relaxes when it shouldn’t or becomes weak, stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.
Food isn’t the only cause for heartburn. There are a variety of factors that both contribute and exacerbate heartburn and the weakening of LES.
- Acidic foods and fried, fatty foods
- Medical conditions (diabetes, asthma)
- Some medications
Some people have abnormal muscle or nerve function in the stomach that affects the stomach’s muscles to contract in a normal fashion, so food is in the stomach longer, increasing the chance of acid seeping back into the esophagus.
Hiatal hernia is a condition where there is an opening in the diaphragm, the muscular wall below the lungs that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity, permitting the upper stomach to protrude through the hole into the chest, impairing the LES’s ability to prevent reflux.
Fortunately, there are ways to eliminate or minimize your heartburn. For starters, you want to make lifestyle changes and modify your diet. You should definitely seek out a medical professional, who can make an evaluation and suggest treatment options.
Now that you know more about heartburn, you know it’s not something you have to live or suffer with. Contact Houston Heartburn so you can eat, drink, and enjoy!