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How Do You Know If You Have Heartburn?

Reviewed on 11/18/2020

What Is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest usually caused by stomach acid reflux. This is the main symptom, but others include bitter taste or bloating.
Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest usually caused by stomach acid reflux. This is the main symptom, but others include bitter taste or bloating.

Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest usually caused by acid reflux. Reflux occurs when the acid normally in the stomach backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, resulting in irritation. 

When acid reflux occurs more than twice weekly, is long-lasting, or causes uncomfortable symptoms or damage, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart.

What Are Symptoms of Heartburn?

Heartburn feels like burning pain or discomfort in the chest, stomach, abdomen, or throat. 

Other symptoms that may accompany heartburn include: 

What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn is usually caused by acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which happen when the lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes, causing stomach contents to back up into the esophagus. 

Causes of lower esophageal sphincter weakness or relaxation include:

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How Is Heartburn Diagnosed?

The cause of heartburn is diagnosed with a history and physical exam.

Tests used to diagnose the cause of heartburn include: 

  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and biopsy
  • Upper GI series
  • Esophageal pH and impedance monitoring
  • Esophageal manometry

What Is the Treatment for Heartburn?

In some cases, heartburn can be managed with lifestyle changes or with non-prescription medicines. 

Home remedies to relieve heartburn include:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Raise the head of the bed 6 to 8 inches using blocks of wood or rubber under 2 legs of the bed or a foam wedge under the mattress
  • Avoid foods that worsen heartburn symptoms 
  • Don’t overeat
  • Don’t eat 2 to 3 hours before bed
  • Lying down with a full stomach can make heartburn worse
  • Wear loose clothing around the stomach area
  • Don’t smoke

If lifestyle changes do not relieve symptoms of heartburn, medications used to treat the condition include: 

In severe cases of heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) when symptoms do not improve with lifestyle changes or medications, surgery may be recommended. Types of surgery to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) include: 

  • Fundoplication
    • A laparoscopic procedure in which a thin tube with a tiny video camera and the top part of the stomach is sewn around the esophagus to reduce reflux
  • Endoscopic techniques
    • Endoscopic sewing uses small stitches to tighten the sphincter muscle
    • Radiofrequency creates heat lesions, or sores, to help tighten the sphincter muscle
    • Results for endoscopic techniques are not as good as those for fundoplication

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Reviewed on 11/18/2020
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