About 40 percent of Americans experience heartburn. For most, it happens at least once a month or more. But what exactly is heartburn, and how do you know it's heartburn and not something more serious?
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is created when stomach acids back up into the esophagus. It will cause a burning in the upper abdomen and below the breast bone. Oddly enough, the name HEART-burn has nothing to do with the heart. But that doesn't mean heartburn should be ignored or treated lightly. As acids back up, or regurgitates, into the esophagus, it eats away at the lining. At any level, this is not good.
When to seek help
Frequent bouts of heartburn can lead to a more serious condition called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This happens when too much acid causes an irritating inflammation of the esophagus. This condition can lead to bleeding of the esophagus, ulcers, and even cancer. In addition, the bleeding and scarring can narrow the esophagus and interfere with food entering the stomach.
If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, you should definitely seek help from a physician. Most conditions, if treated early, can be remedied with antacids and other medications. In addition, you can help yourself by taking these precautions in an effort to alleviate the symptoms of heartburn:
- Limit spicy and fatty foods
- Don't eat right before bedtime
- Eater smaller meals more often
- Limit alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight level
All heartburn symptoms should be treated seriously and help should be sought immediately if the symptoms become increasingly more painful and don't go away. Never ignore chest pains. Keep a record of all incidents of heartburn; it will help your doctor determine if you are experiencing heartburn or something more serious.