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What Is Heartburn
Heartburn is a laypersons term for the physical condition where acid from the stomach flows backward up into the esophagus. People will experience heartburn symptoms when excessive amounts of acid reflux (flow back) into the esophagus.

Heartburn is often described as a feeling of burning discomfort, localized behind the breastbone, that moves up toward the neck and throat. Some even experience the bitter or sour taste of the acid in the back of the throat. The burning and pressure symptoms of heartburn can last for several hours and often worsen after eating food. All of us may have occasional heartburn. However, frequent heartburn (two or more times a week), food sticking, blood or weight loss may be associated with a more severe problem known as gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD)

How common is heartburn?
Heartburn is a relative common condition but unless it occurs very frequently it should not be cause for concern. Symptoms of heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, are more common among the elderly and women during pregnancy.

What causes heartburn and GERD?
To understand gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, it is first necessary to understand what causes heartburn. Most people will experience heartburn if the lining of the esophagus comes in contact with too much stomach juice for too long a period of time. As stomach juices have the sole purpose of breaking down and digesting food material it consists of acid, digestive enzymes, and other injurious materials. The prolonged contact of acidic stomach juice with the esophageal lining injures the esophagus and produces a burning discomfort.

Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter(LES) - keeps the acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. In gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, the LES relaxes too frequently which allows stomach acid to reflux, or flow backward into the esophagus.

Infrequent Heartburn
Infrequent heartburn happens to all of us at least once in a while. It is a result of acid refluxing into the esophagus and it rarely a cause of concern. It can however be quite uncomfortable and steps should be taken to minimise the discomfort during an episode. The table below shows the steps taken to reduce the occurance of infrequent heartburn - which includes over-the-counter drugs and lifestyle changes.

Frequent Heartburn or Gasteroesophageal Reflux Disorder(GERD)?
When symptoms of heartburn are not controlled with modifications in lifestyle, and over-the-counter medicines are needed more often than twice a week, or symptoms remain unresolved on the medication you are taking, you should see your doctor. When GERD is not treated, serious complications can occur, such as severe chest pain that can mimic a heart attack, esophageal stricture (a narrowing or obstruction of the esophagus), bleeding, or a pre-malignant change in the lining of the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus. Symptoms suggesting that serious damage may have already occurred include:

  • difficulty swallowing or a feeling that food is trapped behind the breast bone.
  • vomiting blood, or having tarry, black bowel movements.
  • sensation of acid refluxed into the windpipe causing shortness of breath, coughing, or hoarseness of the voice.
  • weight Loss

How Can It Be Treated?

Infrequent Heartburn
Often infrequent heartburn can be controlled by lifestyle modification and proper use of over-the-counter medicines. Things to note are:

  • Avoid foods and beverages which contribute to heartburn: chocolate, coffee, peppermint, greasy or spicy foods, tomato products and alcoholic beverages.
  • Stop smoking. Tobacco inhibits saliva, which is the body's major buffer. Tobacco may also stimulate stomach acid pro

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