Heartburn is the most common symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux.
Heartburn occurs when acid or other stomach contents back up in the esophagus.
While heartburn is rarely life-threatening, it can greatly reduce your quality of life by affecting your daily activities, your sleep and what you eat.
Heartburn can typically be controlled through behavior modification and over-the-counter medication, but if symptoms persist or worsen, a gastroenterologist should be consulted for additional tests and to rule out more serious conditions.
The muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) located between the esophagus and stomach normally opens after swallowing. This allows food to pass into the stomach. This lower esophageal sphincter muscle then closes quickly to prevent the return (reflux) of food and stomach juices back into the esophagus.
When the lower esophageal sphincter muscle either relaxes inappropriately or is very weak, the acid contents of the stomach can back up, or reflux, into the esophagus. This is called gastro-esophageal reflux and typically produces heartburn, a burning sensation below the sternum where your ribs come together. In addition to heartburn, symptoms may include a persistent sore throat, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma, heart-like chest pain and a feeling of a lump in the throat. When the acid contents from the stomach regularly back up into the esophagus, chronic GERD can occur.
Several factors influence the occurrence and severity of gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn, including:
· The ability of the lower gastroesophageal sphincter muscle to open and close properly.
· The type and amount of stomach juices that are backed up into the esophagus.
· The clearing action of the esophagus.
· The neutralizing effect of saliva and other factors.
·Slow gastric emptying can lead to more reflux.
People experience GERD and heartburn in a variety of ways. Heartburn usually begins as a burning pain that starts behind the breastbone and radiates upward to the neck. Often there is a sensation of food coming back into the mouth, accompanied by an acid or bitter taste. Heartburn is sometimes called acid indigestion and usually occurs after meals.