Why Heartburn Happens:
Not everyone who eats spicy foods will get heartburn. Why do some people suffer from heartburn while others do not?
Heartburn occurs when lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close properly and stomach contents reflux back up into the esophagus. When this happens, you can experience any of the symptoms below:
A burning feeling or feeling of pressure in the chest just behind the breastbone (the sternum) that may radiate upward toward the neck.
Chest pain that occurs when bending over or lying down, especially soon after eating.
A hot, sour, acidic, or bitter tasting fluid at the back of the throat and/or in the mouth.
A feeling like food coming back into the mouth, or sticking in the chest or throat.
Why Heartburn Occurs:
Not everyone suffers from heartburn, even when they eat spicy foods. For millions of people, however, heartburn is a chronic condition that can occur for one of the following reasons:
Poor Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) Tone
When the LES is weak, it lacks the strength needed to hold back stomach contents.
Poor Esophageal Clearance:
In a normally-functioning esophagus, when reflux occurs, the esophagus has mechanisms that will push the refluxed materials back into the stomach. If these mechanisms do not work, or work properly, the erosive stomach contents may remain in the esophagus for a prolonged period of time.
What Increases Your Chances of Having Heartburn:
There are several reasons an individual's heartburn will occur. While these things can cause heartburn in people who only have occasional episodes, they can be big triggers for those suffering from chronic heartburn.
What you eat:
There are certain foods that can worsen heartburn symptoms. Some foods can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to flow up into the esophagus, while other foods will increase the production of stomach acid.
Some of these foods are:
Citrus fruit drinks
It isn't just food that can cause heartburn. Sometimes it's the medications we take to treat other conditions that can be the culprit. Some medications can cause heartburn by relaxing the LES, allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus.
Some of these medications are:
Anticholinergic drugs (urinary tract disorders, antihistamines)
Includes natural belladonna alkaloids (atropine, belladonna, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine) and related products.
Tricyclic (psychotherapeutic agents, antidepressants)
Includes Anafranil, Elavil, Norpramin, Pamelor.
The chances of heartburn occurring can increase because of our lifestyle habits -- what we do and how we do it. Some of these lifestyle habits are: Eating large meals
Large meals expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the esophageal sphincter. It is better to eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Lying down shortly after eating
Gravity helps to keep the stomach juices from backing up into the esophagus and assists the flow of food and digestive juices from the stomach to the intestines. When laying down, especially on a full stomach, the chances of refluxed stomach contents increases. It is best to wait at least two hours after eating to lie down.
Lying flat when sleeping at night
Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. You should elevate your head when sleeping. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow, to elevate your head.
Wearing tight clothes or belts
Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen, such as slenderizing undergarments, will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES, and cause food to reflux into the esophagus. It is a good idea to wear looser-fitting clothing, and not cinch up belts too tightly.
Sharon Gillson- is a patient advocate and freelance journalist. She is also a GERD patient and has lived successfully with the disease since 1990.
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