Heartburn
(Acid Reflux)

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Heartburn facts

  • Heartburn is a feeling of burning in your chest.
  • Heartburn is often linked to a specific food or beverages ingested.
  • Lifestyle changes can alleviate heartburn in many cases.
  • Heartburn is more common during pregnancy.

Heartburn definition

Heartburn is a sensation of burning in the chest caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus (food pipe). The burning is usually in the upper and central part of the chest, just behind the sternum (breast bone). The burning can worsen or can be brought on by lying flat or on the right side. Pregnancy tends to aggravate heartburn.

Many people experience heartburn and there are a large number of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies available to treat heartburn or the symptoms of heartburn.

In most cases you will not need to see a health care professional, except if the symptoms are frequent (several times a week ) or severe.

If heartburn is severe or the pain is accompanied with additional symptoms such as shortness of breath, radiation into your arms or neck, you will need to see a doctor to distinguish these symptoms from more serious medical conditions such as a heart attack.

GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic and more serious form of heartburn.

If your heartburn symptoms occur more than twice a week you should see your health care professional to make sure no serious problems are present.

What causes heartburn?

The esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to the stomach) has a tight band of muscles at the lower end (lower esophageal sphincter [LES]) that closes after the food enters the stomach and prevents the stomach contents to reenter the esophagus. If this sphincter weakens or relaxes at the wrong time, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Picture of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux disease, heartburn)
Picture of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux disease, heartburn)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/3/2014

Patient Comments

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Heartburn - Symptoms Question: What symptoms have you had associated with heartburn?
Heartburn - Causes Question: Discuss the causes of or reasons for your heartburn, including dietary, lifestyle, or medical.
Heartburn - Treatment Question: What treatments have you tried to relieve your heartburn?
Heartburn - Surgery Question: Did you require surgery for your heartburn? Please discuss your experience.
Heartburn - During Pregnancy Question: What home remedies or lifestyle changes did you make to ease heartburn symptoms during your pregnancy?
Heartburn - Triggers Question: What foods or activities trigger heartburn for you?

Heartburn and Pregnancy

Linda was 7 months pregnant and the heartburn was overwhelming. To her, it seemed constant. She couldn't lie down at night. The discomfort of her bulging belly was nothing in comparison.

Linda has a lot of company. Heartburn (a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) occurs in 17% to 45% of all pregnant women. It usually begins in the first or second trimester of pregnancy and continues throughout the remainder of the pregnancy. Fortunately, the heartburn is usually mild and intermittent, but frequently enough, it is troublesome or severe.