Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling of burning and warmth in the chest and sometimes moving upwards to the throat and neck. It has nothing to do with the heart. It is caused by the back-flow of stomach acid into the oesophagus (food pipe).

The acid in our stomach helps to digest the food we eat. Normally when we swallow food, a band of muscle around the bottom of the oesophagus called lower oesophageal sphincter, relaxes to allow food enter our stomach. Then the muscle tightens immediately to prevent back flow of the stomach contents, including stomach acid. If the lower oesophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into the oesophagus and cause heartburn.

Heartburn can be associated with sour taste in the mouth, dry cough, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain and difficulty swallowing. It usually occurs after meals, when lying down, or at night while sleeping.

What can trigger heartburn
• Being overweight or obese
• Overeating
• Stress and lack of sleep
• Smoking
• Pregnancy
• Tight clothing

Some common foods that can trigger or worsen heartburn include:
• Caffeinated drinks
• Carbonated drinks
• Alcohol
• Fatty or fried food
• Spicy food
• Sweet stuff
• Acidic food or beverages
• Chocolate
• Side effects of medications such as painkillers (aspirin, ibuprofen)

Prevention
• Maintain healthy body weight
• Avoid tight fitting clothes
• Manage stress
• Avoid eating too much
• Eat slowly and leisurely
• Minimise consumption of triggering foods
• Try small, frequent meals
• Avoid lying down right after a meal
• Avoid eating just before going to bed
• Avoid smoking
• Inform your doctor or pharmacist if you suspect that you are taking medicine that causes heartburn

When should a doctor be consulted
Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. However, heartburn that occurs frequently and interferes with your routine is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), should be treated as it can cause serious damage to the oesophagus.

As the oesophagus and heart are located near each other, either heartburn or heart attack can cause chest pain which is why many people mistake heartburn for angina and vice versa. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience chest pain or pressure, especially when combined with other symptoms such as pain in the arm or jaw, short of breath and sweating along with chest pain.

References:
1. http://www.guardian.com.sg/Article-Root/Health-Tips/article/heartburn
2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/basics/definition/con-20019545
3. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/heartburn-gerd-basic-information-causes
4. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/ss/slideshow-heartburn-foods
5. http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/heartburn/background.html
6. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Heartburn-or-heart-attack_UCM_457019_Article.jsp#.Vkvy5r_aSYM
7. http://s3.gi.org/patients/pdfs/UnderstandGERD.pdf

*This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or treatment from a health care provider. Like any printed material, it may become out-of-date over time.

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