Heartburn, the painful feeling of your gastric juices irritating your stomach lining and esophagus, has many causes. Many people associate it with unhealthy eating habits such as consuming too much food without properly chewing it or eating too much at once. Certain kinds of foods, especially spicy ones or cuisine that you don’t normally consume, can lead to heartburn as well. These types of situational heartburn can generally be eased by talking antacid tablets or a special pill. You can also eliminate heartburn-causing foods from your diet. Some people have a more severe form that doctors call gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is chronic and weakens the muscles at the bottom of the gullet, allowing stomach acids to leak back into the esophagus and cause pains. Despite the different causes, the symptoms are generally the same with burning sensations in the chest and stomach, mild nausea, and sometimes sweating.
Certain eating habits may cause heartburn – and that’s backed up by medical evidence. Eating very fast, not chewing your food well, and having very large meals make you more likely to experience it. Additional habits to avoid include eating just before going to sleep, as the changes in your wakefulness and the prone position can induce heartburn. For many, the heavier the meal eaten, the greater the chance of burning pains. Things like processed meats, hearty portions of spicy foods, and certain vegetables, like onions, tomatoes, or peppers, can lead to an upset stomach. Even exercise is a bad idea after a full meal; heavy lifting in particular.
Many foods are known to bring on and aggravate symptoms. These can include fried and fatty foods, tomatoes and tomato products, spicy foods, garlic, and citrus fruits. What you drink can have just as much of an effect as what you eat. Avoiding citrus juices, black tea, coffee, and carbonated beverages can help keep your stomach calm. Especially if they are consumed along with richer meals.
The additives and chemicals found in cigarettes may lead to heartburn, or create conditions in which you’d experience it. Cigarette smoking tends to relax the muscles that prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus, making it more likely for stomach acid to come back up. Although it is far from the most threatening of the health issues linked to smoking, it’s still considerable enough to be a reason to quit.
Side Effects of Some Medications
Sometimes heartburn develops as a side effect of a medication. Certain prescription drugs relax the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus, enabling acids to escape from the stomach. Most classes of muscle relaxants produce this effect, so consult with your physician about alternative treatments for tight muscles or a sore back. Medication taken for angina, asthma or a urinary tract infection can also have this side effect. Although some entire classes of medications, such as the muscle relaxers, all may have heartburn as a side effect, other types of medicines have specific ingredients that cause heartburn. A similar drug made by a different manufacturer might work just as well without this unpleasant side effect.
Pregnancy alters the hormone balance in a woman’s body, including boosting levels of progesterone. Progesterone weakens the muscle valve that prevents stomach acid coming back into the esophagus. As the pregnancy progresses, the growing baby places more pressure on the stomach and esophagus, forcing even more gastric bile into the esophagus. Women become more prone to indigestion as well as heartburn during pregnancy, and both of these tend to worsen as her due date approaches. Over-the-counter antacid tablets tend to work well for pregnant women, as well as plenty of dairy products, including yogurt and soft cheeses. Before taking medication, however, pregnant women should consult with their obstetrician.
Obesity and Excess Weight
Those who are overweight and obese will experience heartburn in a way that is similar to pregnant women. The weight of their stomach puts pressure on the valve that prevents acid seeping from the stomach into the esophagus. When this valve weakens then acid escapes, it causes the sensation of heartburn. Losing weight might help reduce the effects. Obesity can be caused by a diet of unhealthy foods. These foods can also leave you more prone due to their high fat and sugar contents. Reducing the amount of these foods in your diet may help with the heartburn symptoms, as well as help you drop excess weight.
Doctors have discovered that GERD often affects more than one member of a family. This might explain why two people may eat the same foods and eat with similar haste but one feels heartburn, and the other has no symptoms. People in the same family may have a similar construction of their GI tract – that is, the conditions that make heartburn likely may be passed down from one generation to another.
Anxiety and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Stress and anxiety can lead to heartburn. In fact, chronic stress is believed to play a huge role in GERD. It’s also tied to higher inflammation levels in general. One of the manifestations of stress in the body is disruptive digestion and gastrointestinal disturbances. If chronic anxiety and medically diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder contribute to your stomach pains, then you may need to figure out a way you can get a better handle on stress. Try changing your routine to feel more relaxed, exercise, meditate or get more rest.
A Hiatal Hernia
Heartburn can be due to a medical condition, instead of dietary choices. If you have a Hiatal Hernia, then gastric acids can leak from your stomach into your esophagus. The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm, the muscular wall separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. Normally, the esophagus goes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. A partial hernia causes the stomach to bulge up into the chest through that opening. Hiatal hernias may repair themselves, although medical science is split. For many with a hernia, having surgery for hernia repair is a better choice, as it fully closes the hole and allows the body to heal the hernia damage naturally. If you suspect you have a hernia causing you pain, consult with your physician.
Excess Sugar and Chocolate
Chocolate is a sweet treat enjoyed by many. In fact, dark chocolate has been demonstrated to have several health benefits. There are certain compounds in chocolate, however, especially bittersweet chocolate, that can cause heartburn. Eating chocolate also relaxes those muscles between the stomach and the esophagus. This increases the chance of escaping acids creating pain in your stomach. A square of chocolate now and again may be a compromise between your sweet tooth and heartburn but choose your diet wisely. Chocolate is also a fairly common allergen. If you experience stomach pain after eating chocolate, you might actually be allergic to it. Consult with a specialist to rule food allergies out, especially chocolate.