Heartburn Is a Biochemical Physical Reaction That Occurs When the Lower Esophageal Sphincter Does Not Close Properly
It’s a circular band of muscles at the bottom of your esophagus that acts as a valve to the stomach. When the esophageal sphincter does not open and close properly it allows the acid in your stomach to flow back up into the esophagus. Since it doesn’t have the same protective lining as the stomach, the acid can irritate sensitive tissues, which causes the pain known as heartburn. It does not signify a heart issue as some might surmise.
However, heartburn is another symptom of gastro intestinal imbalances mostly caused from acids in the stomach that are not in the proper pH range to digest foods. After a prolonged period of imbalance and weak stomach acids, the biochemistry that triggers the action to open and close the valve becomes weak and inefficient, thus allowing acid to flow up into the esophagus. This condition is usually misdiagnosed and many practitioners suggest relief with antacids, Maalox and other drugs such as Prilosec. This does not support the cause but is an aid for temporary relief at best.
Most Medical doctors suggest that an acidic stomach is something that needs to be managed with pharmaceutical medicines. This creates a condition known as achlorhydria (low stomach acid) and goes to the complete opposite of their training in biochemistry thus the misunderstanding and correction of the pH is rarely understood as the root cause of the condition.
Symptoms of Heartburn Are Commonly Referred To As Acid Reflux?
Heartburn, (also called acid indigestion), is a burning pain or discomfort that can move up from your stomach to the middle of your abdomen and chest. The pain can also move into your throat.
Regurgitation. Another common symptom of acid reflux is regurgitation — or the sensation of acid backing up into your throat or mouth. Regurgitation can produce a sour or bitter taste, and you may experience a “wet burp” or even vomit some contents of your stomach.
Dyspepsia. Many people with acid reflux disease also have a syndrome called dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a general term for stomach discomfort.
Symptoms of dyspepsia include:
- Nausea after eating
- Stomach fullness or bloating
- Upper abdominal pain and discomfort
- See a health practitioner as soon as possible If you have any acid reflux symptoms, such as:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Blood in vomit
- Black, tarry, or maroon-colored stools
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
Other acid reflux symptoms that should be taken seriously are:
- Asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing or dry cough
- Hoarseness, especially in the morning
- Chronic sore throat
- Hiccups that don’t let up
- Nausea that lasts for weeks or months
Note: Sometimes, people confuse the symptoms of heart attack with symptoms of acid reflux disease. That’s because pain in the chest can feel like heartburn.
When Do Acid Reflux Symptoms Occur?
Acid reflux symptoms most often occur:
- After eating a heavy meal
- When bending over or lifting an object
- When lying down, especially on your back
- People who have frequent acid reflux symptoms most often experience them at night. Nighttime GERD also produces the most pain. However, the level of pain does not always indicate the degree of damage to your esophagus.
Causes of Heartburn:
- Emotional and Body Stress
- Weak stomach acids (pH levels above 3.5)
- Being overweight
- Eating too much food at one time
- Wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on your stomach
Foods That Can Trigger Heartburn Include:
- Spicy, fried, or fatty foods
- Tomato-based foods such as pizza, pasta sauce, and salsa
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Onions and garlic
- Mint flavorings
- Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks
- Coffee and tea (caffeinated or decaffeinated)
- Soda and other carbonated drinks
More Signs of Weak Stomach Acids and Conditions
Discomfort 0-2 Hours after Eating with the health transit time out of the stomach being about 2 hours. With that concept in mind, if you experience any of the following symptoms you might not be breaking down your food properly:
- Frequently taking antacid drugs
- Acid indigestion
- Intolerance to certain foods (get gassy when eating certain foods)
- Food Allergies
- Unable to take supplements without digestive upset
- Frequent belching
- Feeling full
- Feeling like the food just isn’t moving along after eating
- Upset stomach
- Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Pylori infection
The rhythmical contraction of the intestines, that crush and move food through the GI track, called peristalsis, is triggered by the stomach acid. The closing pyloric sphincter—the valve which holds stomach contents until they are ready to flow down to the intestines—is initiated by the stomach acid. The pyloric sphincter works in exactly the opposite way as the Lower esophageal sphincter. This is your bodies’ way of ensuring that food is properly digested before it flows through the rest of the gastrointestinal system.
If you experience any symptoms of, digestive burning, upset stomach, heart burn pain, gas & bloating, then seek heartburn relief by changing your diet and lifestyle, such as:
- Chewing food several times for swallowing
- Don’t go to bed with a full stomach
- Eating 2-3 hours before sleep
- Eating 4 to 5 small meals instead of 3 large ones
- Eat slowly
- Wear loose-fitting clothes
- Losing weight can help relieve heartburn symptoms if overweight
- Smoking and Nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to enter the esophagus.
- Avoid alcohol
- Relaxation techniques
Learn more about stomach acid by taking the free test for acidity. Studies support what we have long suspected: as we age our bodies produce less stomach acid compared to when we were young. See our Evaluation Form for more understanding and investigation with our team of experts to support your health and wellness.
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- Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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- Venkat Mohan, MD on September 01, 2006