What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a caustic pain in the upper abdomen behind the breast bone, combined with a sour and bitter taste which rises in the esophagus along the neck.
How does heartburn develop?
Heartburn is caused by the reflux of stomach contents – a mixture of food and gastric acid. The esophagus, coated with a sensitive mucous membrane, is affected by the acid. The results are inflammations and lesions which can be extremely painful, and cause a burning sensation. Additional typical reflux symptoms are air regurgitation, swallowing disorders, regurgitation of food, and cramp-like pain in the upper abdomen or behind the breast bone, as well as nausea and vomiting. Night-time cough attacks or bouts of breathlessness may also be caused by stomach contents flowing back into the esophagus and entering the airway. In many cases patients are (mistakenly) treated for asthma over a period of years.
Typically a closing mechanism, at the end of the esophagus, prevents the reflux of stomach contents. The function of this seal may be disturbed by drugs, such as hypertension medication, or a rich meal, and by a fatty diet and alcohol. This kind of dysfunction is easily treated by avoiding the trigger substances.
Yet, if severe heartburn persists over several years, usually an anatomical disorder is the cause – for example, a weakened sphincter muscle in combination with a diaphragmatic or hiatal hernia.