Heartburn is an unpleasant symptom that can take the enjoyment out of meals or cause people to lie awake at night in pain. There are many causes for heartburn but one of the most common is exceeding social drinking limits. If people wish to avoid the unpleasantness of heartburn, they will need to be careful around alcoholic drinks. Those individuals who find that heartburn is causing serious disruption in their life might want to avoid alcohol completely.
Heartburn can also be referred to as acid indigestion, pyrosis or a symptom of dyspepsia. It is caused by acid in the stomach entering the esophagus and causing irritation. Heartburn is a common condition that is most likely to occur at nighttime. Some individuals have a condition called gastric-esophageal reflux disease, and this means that they regularly have to put up with heartburn.
Symptoms of Heartburn
The main symptom of heartburn is a burning sensation that people experience in the upper area of their abdomen (epigastrium) or just behind the breastbone. Although it is called heartburn it is not related to the heart at all. This pain can sometimes be felt in other parts of the body including the neck, throat and jaw. The symptoms of heartburn are similar to those caused by ischemic heart disease, so people should be careful about dismissing such pain too easily.
Causes of Heartburn
Many factors can increase the likelihood of developing heartburn. These are some of the most common:
* Lying down or bending over after eating
* A hiatus hernia, which occurs when a portion of the stomach protrudes into the diaphragm area due to a weakness in the abdominal wall
* Gastro-esophageal reflux disease
* Drinking too much alcohol
* Caffeinated drinks
* Peptic ulcers
* Smoking cigarettes
* Drinking carbonated beverages
* Consuming fatty or spicy food, citrus fruits, tomato products, onions and chocolate
* Taking medications including ibuprofen, aspirin, and certain drugs used to treat hypertension.
Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease
Sometimes people can experience heartburn as a symptom of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is a condition where there is mucosal damage to the surface of the esophagus caused by acidic content regularly escaping the stomach. GERD arises because of problems with the sphincter barrier that prevents contents from escaping the stomach into the esophagus. The symptoms of GERD include:
* Heartburn or other types of chest pain
* Regurgitation of food
* Pain when trying to swallow food
* The individual can experience increased salivation
* Erosion to dental enamel
* Sore throat
* Chronic cough
* Problems with swallowing
Alcohol and Heartburn
There are several ways that alcohol is linked to heartburn:
* Drinking alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for stomach contents to escape into the esophagus.
* Drinking alcohol can increase the production of acid in the stomach.
* The esophagus can become more vulnerable to the damage from stomach acid when people drink alcohol.
* Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation of the stomach (gastritis), which in turn leads to heartburn.
Distinguishing Between Heartburn and Ischemic Heart Disease
Sometimes it is possible to mistake the symptoms of ischemic heart disease for heartburn. This is because the heart and esophagus share the same nerve supply. Those who fail to recognize the symptoms of ischemic heart disease are likely to delay getting treatment. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish between these two conditions. For those with any doubt in their mind, it is always best to seek medical attention.
Those individuals who would be considered at high risk of developing ischemic heart disease should be particularly careful if they experience heartburn. The following factors place a person at higher risk of experiencing heartburn:
* A family history of cardiac problems
* High blood pressure
* Smoking cigarettes
* High cholesterol
* Being overweight
The usual symptoms associated with a heart attack include:
* A feeling of tightness or pressure in the chest area, a symptom which usually appears suddenly
* Discomfort in neck, shoulders, jaw, back or either arm
* Shortness of breath
* Nausea and vomiting
* A feeling of lightheadedness
Treatment of Heartburn
Heartburn is a something that most people only need to deal with occasionally. It is never life threatening and usually passes after a couple of hours. If people experience heartburn too frequently, this could cause inflammation (or even bleeding or narrowing) of the esophagus.
The type of treatment required to deal with heartburn depends on the severity of the symptoms. In many instances, people do not take any action with mild heartburn. They just put up with the discomfort until it passes. These are some of the available types of treatments:
* Antacids are the most common form of medication used to treat heartburn. This type of compound contains ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, aluminum salts, calcium carbonate, or magnesium, and these help to neutralize the acid in the stomach. People need to be careful when using antacids, because taking too many can cause diarrhea or constipation.
* Mild heartburn can be relieved by staying in an upright position. The symptoms tend to be worse when people are lying down.
* Some people find that chewing on a clove of garlic or eating a banana eases heartburn.
* Medications known as H2 antagonists reduce acid production in the stomach by blocking the actions of certain cells.
* Proton pump inhibitors prevent the stomach from producing too much acid.
* If people have severe heartburn because of GERD, it may be necessary for them to undergo Nissen fundoplication surgery.
How to Avoid Heartburn
These are some of the steps that people can take to prevent heartburn:
* Do not drink too much alcohol. It is recommended that people stick to the safe limits of alcohol consumption. This is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. In this case, a drink would refer to a shot of spirits, a glass of wine or a standard beer. If people suffer from GERD, they might be better off avoiding alcohol altogether.
* Quit smoking.
* It is believed that a diet high in protein and low in fat is less likely to cause heartburn.
* Maintaining a healthy body weight.
* Avoid fatty and spicy food near to bedtime. It is best not to eat anything in the three-hour period before bedtime.
* Limit the amount of caffeinated drinks consumed. Even decaffeinated coffee has been known to cause heartburn.
* Elevate their head a few extra inches when lying in bed. This is reduces the chance of acid escaping the stomach.
* Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight around the waist, as this squeezes the stomach and encourages the contents inside to escape into the esophagus.