Is Heartburn a Heart Burn?

Upper digestive tract.Heartburn is a bad name for a complaint that has nothing to do with the heart. TV ads call it acid indigestion. It's a burning sensation that begins under the breastbone and moves up into the throat. The pain may be at its worst when lying down or bending over. It may feel like bitter liquid rising into the throat or mouth. If it happens frequently, doctors call it GERD (for gastroesophageal reflux disease).

It happens when acid escapes back through the valve at the top of the stomach and moves up into the esophagus. Sixty million Americans say they get it at least once a month. Heartburn is common after a big meal, and some foods--such as tomato sauce, fried food, sour beverages, coffee, or soft drinks--trigger it in some people. It's more common among people who are overweight, smoke, or drink too much alcohol. It can be associated with a stomach ulcer or a hiatal hernia, which is a bulge of part of the stomach into the chest cavity. The hernia causes the stomach valve to work improperly.

Some people find they can avoid heartburn by watching what they eat and drink, learning to relax, and not eating two or three hours before bedtime. Over-the-counter antacids are effective for many. They make stomach acid less acid. When antacids fail, doctors recommend prescription drugs. In severe cases, a surgeon can stitch the stomach valve tighter, preventing the backup of acid.

About the Author

Faith Brynie, Ph D

Faith BrynieFaith Brynie holds a B.A. in Biology from West Virginia University and an M.A. and Ph.D in science curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado. She writes books and articles on science and health topics for children, teens, and non-scientist adults. Some of her books have won awards, including two 'Best Book of the Year' citations from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.