Heartburn is an extremely common medical complaint characterised by a burning sensation in the chest, in the region behind the breastbone. It is often accompanied by a lingering bitterness in the mouth, with the condition worsening post consuming a heavy meal, or when lying down in a flat, horizontal position.
When a person experiences heartburn only sporadically, it can easily be rectified with some simple home remedies and basic medications. However, if the incidence of heartburn occurs often, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying disorder, that requires prompt medical attention, to ensure complete recovery of the patient.
Heartburn typically happens when food and other remnant components from the stomach flow back into the oesophagus, in the reverse direction.
The oesophagus is the food pipe – a tubular structure that transports food and fluids from the mouth and onto the stomach, through rhythmic muscular contractions known as peristalsis.
A specialised structure known as cardiac sphincter or lower oesophagal sphincter is present at the junction of the oesophagus and the stomach, It closes once food particles travel from the food pipe and enter the stomach. Nevertheless, in cases where its function has declined, foodstuff passes in the backwards direction, into the oesophagus, with stomach acids irritating the walls of the food pipe.
In some severe cases, a portion of the stomach does not retain its structural integrity within the digestive tract, similar to abdominal adhesions. As a result, it forces itself past the diaphragm, into the chest, giving rise to a condition termed as hiatal hernia, which invariably leads to heartburn. Also Read: Abdominal Adhesions: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
During pregnancy, higher levels of the hormone progesterone in a woman’s system directs the cardiac sphincter muscles to loosen up and relax. This naturally permits the foodstuff, bodily fluids and other contents to flow back into the oesophagus from the stomach, causing heartburn. Also Read: Tips To Prevent Heartburn During Pregnancy
Heartburn is a very widespread ailment reported in all age groups but it mostly affects young adults and middle-aged individuals. Children and the elderly undergo this condition very rarely.
Certain aspects make a person more prone to acquiring heartburn, such as:
- Eating spicy foods regularly
- Having very oily and deep-fried meals
- Unhealthy smoking habits
- Long-term alcohol addictions
- Being overweight or obese
The distinguishing features of heartburn include:
- Prominent discomfort and agitation in the chest, after eating full meals
- Upper body pain, which intensifies while bending the hip muscles forwards or backwards, or resting on the floor
- Strong and enduring unpleasant acerbic taste in the mouth
If the afore-mentioned distinct attributes of heartburn gradually disappear within a day or two, there is no cause for concern.
Underlying Serious Ailments:
In some circumstances, the affected person displays difficulty in breathing, with excruciating chest pain, inability to swallow, constant nausea or vomiting, sudden weight loss and numerous recurring episodes of heartburn within a week. It is then advised to consult a doctor at once, to identify the trigger behind these symptoms.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease):
Incessant heartburn that takes place more than twice a week progresses onto GERD. This sickness requires prescription drugs and sometimes even surgery, to mend the injured oesophagus, restore its routine functioning and prevent precancerous alterations called Barrett’s oesophagus, from developing in the body.
The doctor initially conducts an external examination and enquires about the frequency of heartburn in the patient.
In case the occurrence of heartburn is stated to be more than twice a week, then the healthcare provider conducts the following analyses:
X-Ray And Endoscopy:
These scans aid in visualizing the current shape and position of the oesophagus, cardiac sphincter and stomach.
A segment of tissue from the oesophagus is carefully excised to look for abnormalities in its structure.
Ambulatory Acid Probe Test:
Using an acid monitor, the medical expert evaluates when and for how much time a situation of acid reflux arises in the oesophagus.
Oesophageal Motility Assessment:
This assay accurately measures the motions and level of force that the oesophagus undergoes, during the passage of food particles and fluids.
Once the diagnosis of severe heartburn or GERD is confirmed in the patient, the doctor recommends taking antacids to soothe aggravation and efficiently neutralize digestive acids.
In severe instances, he or she will strictly suggest having prescription medications and in instances of intestinal irregularities, may even perform surgery.
Basic healthy practices, comprising maintaining optimal body weight, eating meals on time, steering clear of spicy and fried foods, and quitting bad habits like smoking, drinking, all help to avert a repeat incidence of heartburn. Also, walking after consuming a large meal and avoiding very tight clothing facilitates the smooth flow of particles from the oesophagus to the stomach without any excess pressure, thus enhancing digestion.