The name “heartburn” is really a misnomer, given that it is completely unrelated to conditions of the heart. But the causes of heartburn can make you feel like your heart is burning up, especially just behind your solar plexus. It is a burning sensation that becomes worse when you lie down or bend over. Heartburn affects about 50% of pregnant women and almost a third of the U.S. population.
These causes can be divided into 4 broad categories. Becoming aware of these can be the first step in avoiding them or treating them.
1. Physiological Causes
Understanding some general realities about how the human body functions can help us to appreciate how our own bodies can be instrumental in producing heartburn. The physical part which plays the most important role is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This is a valve-like mechanism which is located at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach (just below the rib cage). It momentarily opens and closes to permit food to go into the stomach, and to allow gas to be released out from it. It also serves to prevent the stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. Heartburn can be attributed to a few of the following physiological causes;
- Hiatal Hernia
- Insufficient saliva production
- Delayed gastric emptying
- Low stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria)
All of the above causes have numerous potential extenuating circumstances.
Acid reflux is usually the result of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) not functioning properly due to physiological reasons. It may be opening too often or just not shutting properly. Either way, the end result is heartburn. It is a dysfunctional LES which causes GERD more than anything, although the LES can be compromised by non-physiological factors related to lifestyle.
Heartburn can still occur among people with a normal LES as a result of our food choices. These typically bring about indigestion by overly-acidifying the stomach which creates a drop in stomach pressure, thereby weakening the LES at which time reflux can occur. Although this is not chronic, it may become so over time if the causes are not stopped.
Certain dietary choices can also inflame a pre-existing case of heartburn because of the extra stomach acids produced. Let’s look at a number of the substances that trigger heartburn:
- Coffee, tea and other beverages containing caffeine including chocolate due to the fact they impair the LES.
- Greasy and fried foods, along with foods high in fat tend to clog up the digestive system. The food subsequently remains inside the stomach for an extended time period putting too much stress on it which further compromises the LES.
- Alcohol relaxes the LES and heightens the production of stomach acid.
- Tomatoes and tomato by-products along with onions, garlic, mints, and citrus fruits all have substances that irritate the stomach if you are vulnerable to reflux.
- Spicy foods
- Vinegar products
Your doctor will instruct you to refrain from the short list of usual suspects which are known to be causative. But you should also pay close attention to any reactions you may have to whatever you eat since many people have different reactions to the same foods.
Another major cause of heartburn involves the lifestyle adopted by the individual. Here is a list of several of the most typical causes:
- Not letting the stomach to rest between meals
- Disproportionate strain on the stomach as a result of being overweight or obese
- Going to sleep for the night on a full or partially full stomach
- Wearing tight outfits that put pressure on the waist
- Tension and stress
- Tobacco addiction
4. Drugs and Medications:
Just a few of the most common medications that can cause heartburn are;
- Pain Killers
- Asthma Inhalers
- Calcium Channel Blockers
These can all have a direct impact on the LES and the stomachs ability to process food.
Being aware of the causes of heartburn will allow you to avoid a lot of heartache (and heartburn). If you are prone to reflux or have it already, you can find out how to lessen its effects or wholly free yourself from its influence, which leads to an improved quality of life for you and those close to you.