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What Causes Heartburn?

This Is What's Happened in the Body When You Feel Heartburn


The other night, while laying in my bed and dealing with a horrible bout of heartburn (perhaps triggered by my extra large order of Old Bay fries), I realized I had no idea what was physically going on in my body to cause the discomfort.

"Heartburn is caused by digestive acid from your stomach that moves up into your esophagus after you swallow food or liquid," Dr. Elmer Chang, a gastroenterologist with Mission Hospital in Southern California, says.

"My patients with heartburn describe it beginning with a burning sensation in the upper abdomen that then travels up into the chest. You may also have a bitter taste in the back of your mouth."

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You've probably heard someone, besides me, complain of heartburn — many people experience this discomfort occasionally.

"The good news is that heartburn can typically be treated at home with over-the-counter medications such as antacids and acid blockers," Dr. Chang adds.

It's very important to note that heartburn is actually a symptom that can be experienced in different conditions, Dr. Chang says, such as acid reflux or GERD. If you're experiencing severe heartburn on a regular basis, or if you have any concerns at all, you should speak to your doctor.

"Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD. If left untreated, GERD can scar your esophagus and potentially damage your teeth," Dr. Chang explains.

As for how I can reduce my chances of feeling that late-night heartburn again? (As a reminder, I downed French fries, and then immediately went to bed.)

According to Dr. Adam Goodman, MD, section chief of gastroenterology at NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, it is "recommended to avoid assuming a supine position after meals and avoiding meals 2-3 hours before bedtime. This can reduce reflux of a recent meal into the esophagus leading to symptoms."

I'm also going to keep in mind Dr. Goodman's list of foods that are known to trigger heartburn: "spicy foods, tomato sauce, citrus fruits, high fat foods, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated beverages and peppermint."
Guess sparkling water shouldn't make my night stand either.

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