To understand heartburn, you should become familiar with GERD and acid reflux. GERD is defined as regular symptoms caused by the flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. Heartburn is a symptom of GERD, and acid reflux is what causes GERD.
Our stomachs are made to handle stomach acid, but occasionally that acid comes up into the esophagus, where it irritates the esophageal lining and causes heartburn, says gastroenterologist Karthik Ravi, M.D, whos based in Rochester, Minnesota. Everyone experiences heartburn occasionally, but those with GERD have episodes at least twice a week.
Causes of Heartburn
Certain foods, lifestyle choices and anatomical issues like a hiatal hernia can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) responsible for closing the esophagus from the stomach, according to the ACG.
Typically, heartburn happens after large, fatty meals or when you lay down or bend over, says Dr. Ravi. A large meal can cause the stomach to stretch and put pressure on the LES causing it to open. Also, lying down takes away the effect of gravity, allowing the LES to open just enough for acid to enter.
Other causes of heartburn include excess pressure on the stomach, such as during pregnancy, and medications that can irritate the esophagus.
The National Institute of Health lists the following common GERD symptoms:
- A burning sensation in your chest, which typically comes after eating and may be worse at night
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitating food or sour liquid
- The sensation of a lump in your throat
Nighttime acid reflux can cause:
- Chronic cough
- Laryngitis (defined as inflammation of the voice box or larynx)
- New or worsening asthma
- Disrupted sleep