You may have heartburn if you’re experiencing a burning sensation in your chest. This burning feeling is felt in the area behind your sternum, also known as the breastbone of your chest. Sometimes heartburn is accompanied by an unpleasant and bitter taste in the back of your throat. Heartburn is usually felt after eating a large meal, when bending over or lying down. The burning sensation may be brief or can last for several hours.
When you eat, food travels from your mouth down through a tube known as the esophagus. The food then passes from the esophagus and into the stomach. The area or opening between the esophagus and the stomach is called the lower esophageal sphincter. If the sphincter is not working properly and does not close all the way after the food passes through to the stomach, acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus, causing acid reflux (also known as heartburn). This stomach acid irritates the esophagus causing the heartburn sensation in the chest.
Heartburn has many causes. Anything that makes this opening too loose so it won’t close properly may cause acid reflux. Here is a list of potential causes:
If you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice per week, call for an appointment. Our doctors will discuss with you any lifestyle factors that may be contributing to your heartburn. You’ll have an exam and may also need lab work. Ongoing heartburn can cause permanent damage to your esophagus, may be a sign of other disorders that need attention, and can also raise your risk for developing esophageal cancer if not treated. If your heartburn occurs often or interferes with your quality of life, it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, called GERD for short. If you have GERD, you’ll need medication. Sometimes GERD is caused by bacteria called H. Pylori which requires treatment with antibiotics. Sometimes GERD is a sign of structural problems in the esophagus that may require a surgical procedure, depending on the cause.