Spicy food isn’t the only thing that can make your insides feels like burning. Heartburn is a burning sensation that is felt from the top part of the stomach, going down the throat and chest. The sensation is caused by stomach acid travelling back up into the esophagus. It is usually a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
How and why does it happen?
The issue lies with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), where the esophagus meets the stomach. When it is functioning well, the LES relaxes to allow food into your stomach or to let you burp, and then tightens or closes again. If the LES weakens or relaxes abnormally, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus and cause a burning discomfort in your upper stomach or lower breastbone also known as heartburn.
There are several causes to heartburn. Often, it is due to overeating. Being overweight or pregnant can also potentially increase your risk of experiencing heartburn as there is too much pressure on the stomach. Certain foods and beverages can also trigger heartburn such as coffee (caffeine), acidic juices (grapefruit, orange, pineapples), spicy foods, carbonated drinks and consuming alcohol that can relax your LES too much or increase stomach acid. Studies also show that smoking cigarettes relaxes the LES.
How serious is heartburn?
Heartburn can be usually identified by feeling a burning pain in the chest especially after food or at night, pain that can worsen when you lie down or bend over, and experiencing an acidic or bitter taste in the mouth. If it occurs more than just occasionally, it is not just a small inconvenience. It can affect what you eat and keep you from doing your daily activities and how you sleep at night.
You can find relief with over-the-counter medications such as antacid or prescriptions like proton pump inhibitor which also helps to lower the acid in your stomach and heal the esophageal lining. Other remedies include drinking ginger tea, wearing loose clothing to avoid compressing your stomach, and elevating your upper body to put less pressure on your LES.
The severity of heartburn depends on how frequent it occurs. Too often and it is considered as GERD, where there may be a dysfunction of the LES and the amount of stomach acid brought up from the stomach. It can lead to serious problems such as laryngitis, ulcers or inflammation of the esophagus, narrowing or scarring of the esophagus and Barrett’s esophagus, a complication that increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
When to seek treatment for heartburn?
If you find yourself reaching for medication or antacids too often and you are not getting better, seek medical help and see a gastroenterologist in Singapore. This includes symptoms such as heartburn occurring more than twice a week, difficulties in swallowing, persistent nausea or vomiting, and weight loss due to poor appetite.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms, and perform a physical examination. Diagnosis tests may also be carried to check for underlying conditions such as 24-hour pH study and gastroscopy, if GERD is suspected. There are specific medication or procedures for proper treatment.
Dietary changes and lifestyle modification can also be helpful when it comes to managing heartburn. Cut down on foods that trigger your heartburn incidents, avoid heavy meals and having a big meal within 2 hours of bedtime. Stress reduction, a modest weight loss and quitting smoking can have significant benefits in improving symptoms.