For many, heartburn is what happens after we eat one too many Fruit Roll-Ups or an entire meat lover’s pizza.
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, 44% of Americans suffer from monthly heartburn, and 7% have it daily. Heartburn is generally caused by the regurgitation of gastric acid. The condition has nothing to do with the cardiovascular system; rather, it’s a pain felt in the chest due to inflammation of the esophagus.
At the junction between the stomach and esophagus is the lower esophageal sphincter, which acts as a valve that keeps food and stomach acid from rising back through the esophagus. When stomach acids rise through the esophagus, they cause inflammation, a “burning” sensation, and pressure across the chest. Other common symptoms include difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, and a nasty acid fluid accumulation at the back of the throat.
The key to conquering heartburn is identifying what foods are most irritable to your stomach. From there, it’s about crafting a diet that can reduce stomach acids before acid reflux starts to deteriorate the esophagus.
If cutting out the common triggers doesn't help, see your doctor to rule out other possible—and more serious— explanations for your pain, like:
- Angina: Angina is the warning symptom before a heart attack. This pain is usually worse with exertion and can be accompanied by shortness of breath. This is one of the big, bad diagnoses you don’t want to overlook.
- Blood Clot in the Lungs: Called a pulmonary embolism, this can be fatal as well. The blood clot usually comes from a vein in the leg and traces to the lungs. The only way to rule this out is a CT scan. This is the other big, bad diagnosis.
- Spasm of the Esophagus: Also known as Nutcracker Esophagus, this can be very painful and feels like squeezing or a cramp in your chest. Difficulty swallowing is another symptom. This is not dangerous.