There are many causes of heartburn, including obesity and smoking.
Persistent acid reflux that happens more than twice a week is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn is felt when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus - the pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
According to estimates from the American College of Gastroenterology, at least 15 million Americans experience heartburn - the symptom of acid reflux - every day. Learn more about stomach fluid, the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, and how reflux can be harmful.
- Causes include diet, obesity, and lack of exercise.
- The primary symptom is a burning sensation in the throat or chest from stomach acid.
- In many cases, heartburn has little bearing on overall health.
- There are many treatments, including PPI medications (proton-pump inhibitors).
What causes heartburn?
Occasional heartburn is normal and is rarely a significant cause for concern. Recurrent acid reflux results in the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD) and can have serious consequences for health and indicate other underlying health issues.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is seen in people of all ages, and the cause is often attributable to a lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, and low levels of exercise. See here for more detail about the causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Symptoms of heartburn
Symptoms include a burning sensation in the middle of the chest.
The symptoms of heartburn are fairly obvious to most sufferers. The most common is a feeling of warmth or heat, sometimes burning, in the chest and throat, caused by the stomach acid.
Other symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in the middle of the chest.
- Rising pain, possibly reaching the jaw.
- Burning and indigestion-like pain.
- Foul, acrid taste in the mouth.
If a person experiences symptoms of acid reflux frequently, they should consult their doctor, who may refer them to a gastroenterologist - a specialist in gut medicine - for further investigation. Learn more about GERD.
Treatment and prevention of heartburn
The main treatment for repeated heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease is to reduce the production of stomach acid. This can be achieved though lifestyle alterations, or by using drugs such as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) or histamine-2 blockers. Find out more about PPIs, over-the-counter medications for acid reflux, and other treatment options.
Lifestyle control of heartburn
Changes to lifestyle or behavior can prevent or improve heartburn symptoms. Read more about prevention through lifestyle. Our acid reflux page has more in-depth information on all the topics introduced here.