What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a painful condition caused by stomach acid rising up into the oesophagus. Everyone experiences it differently, but the most common sign of heartburn is burning pain just under your breastbone. You might also have pain, a nasty taste, or fluid at the back of your throat.
What causes heartburn?
The common signs of heartburn
Heartburn is different for everyone, but it normally involves burning pain and related discomfort. You might have one or more of these signs.
- A burning pain in the chest area, the back of the throat or along the oesophagus.
- Burning pain that wakes you up and keeps you from sleeping.
- A bitter, hot or unpleasant taste or fluid in the back of the throat or mouth.
- Feeling tired during the day due to night-time waking caused by pain.
- Feeling generally unwell.
- Anxiety and feeling preoccupied with setting off the burning pain again.
- Irritation or frustration over frequent burning pain and how it affects your life.
This is heartburn that occurs twice a week or more. It’s more common than you might think: one in six adults have frequent heartburn. It can take a huge toll on your work and social life, by robbing you of a good nights sleep or spoiling the pleasure of your favourite mealtime. No wonder many people with frequent heartburn long to get it under control.
As well as the physical symptoms, frequent heartburn sufferers tend to experience:
- Anxiety and frustration over the frequent burning pain heartburn can bring.
- A tendency to limit the things you enjoy, especially your food and drink choices.
- Disruption not only to your sleep but to your relaxation time.
As heartburn is different for everyone, there is a wide range of possible triggers. You might even find you have different triggers at different times, especially if you get heartburn frequently. It can help to keep notes for a few weeks, to work out what sparks heartburn for you and when.
Spicy/acidic food can trigger heartburn. Or it could be rich or fatty foods or chocolate. Simply eating a big meal, or eating too late at night, can bring it on.
Alcohol or fizzy drinks can trigger heartburn. Drink moderate amounts and avoid lying down after drinking.
Smoking can trigger heartburn or make it feel worse once it starts. Smoking weakens the valve between your stomach and your oesophagus, allowing acid to leak upwards, plus it can cause you to produce more acid.
Stress and fatigue
Lack of sleep, anxiety and stress can all trigger heartburn by putting strain on your body, especially if you’re prone to it anyway.
Hormonal changes can weaken the valve between your stomach and oesophagus, letting acid leak upwards. Your changing shape can also increase pressure on that valve and your stomach, making heartburn more likely.
Carrying extra weight can put pressure on your oesophageal valve and on your stomach, allowing acid to rise up into your oesophagus.
It is possible to reduce the pain of heartburn by making simple lifestyle changes.
Think about what and when you eat and drink
Avoid foods or drinks that trigger heartburn for you – but also think about when and how much you eat. Cut out bedtime snacks or large meals late at night. Eat slowly and wait before lying down or exercising. Cutting down on alcohol, coffee or fizzy drinks can also help.
Smoking can trigger heartburn or make it feel worse once it starts. If you do smoke, try avoiding it just before or after eating.
Take regular exercise / keep fit
Regular exercise and losing weight can often help. Though certain abdominal exercises like stomach crunches can also push acid out of the stomach, causing heartburn.
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