Despite all that, heartburn is frequently misunderstood. For example, some people assume that this is a cardiac problem. Many believe heartburn is a medical condition on its own.
When you experience acid reflux, your stomach acid reaches your esophagus and irritates it. The sensation that usually comes with acid reflux is called heartburn. It’s rare but possible to have acid reflux without experiencing this consequence.
In other words, heartburn is actually a group of interrelated symptoms rather than a condition. It’s caused by acid reflux.
So, what does heartburn feel like and is it dangerous? What should you do about it? Let’s look into some questions people tend to have about these symptoms.
Symptoms – What Does Heartburn Feel Like?
When you have heartburn, you may experience some of the following:
1. A Burning Sensation in Your Chest
Here is the reason why many people confuse heartburn with heart problems. It causes a burning sensation behind the breastbone. You might also feel this sensation in the upper parts of your stomach.
The discomfort in your chest may get worse if you bend over or lie down. Additionally, the pain tends to grow if you consume more food while you’re feeling the symptoms of heartburn.
2. Coughing and a Sore Throat
When the stomach acid reaches your esophagus, it may cause you to start coughing. Heartburn can make it difficult to swallow and you might feel like there’s something stuck in your throat. You may also experience a throat ache. It generally comes with a burning sensation.
3. Bad Breath and a Bad Taste in Your Mouth
It can give you a bad breath, and it comes with an unpleasant taste in your mouth. You may feel there’s a sour, salty, or acidic fluid in the back of your throat. Some people also regurgitate recently consumed food or liquids. Belching and bloating are common too.
Duration – How Long Does Heartburn Last?
For some, heartburn only lasts a few minutes after eating. In this case, it’s nothing more than a passing discomfort and you will probably feel that it’s unnecessary to do anything about it.
But if you’re unlucky, the symptoms can last for two hours or more. It can have a serious impact on your wellbeing. If you have heartburn, you may find it difficult to enjoy a meal, especially in a social setting.
It’s important to note that heartburn is often more severe during the night.
Causes – Why Does Heartburn Happen?
The esophagus is your food tube. At the bottom of this tube, there is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. It keeps your esophagus closed up against the stomach, so acid and food in the stomach can’t come up. When you eat or drink, this muscle relaxes and allows you to swallow, but then it immediately tightens again.
Acid reflux happens when this sphincter isn’t functioning normally. Risk factors also include increased production of stomach acid.
Now let’s take a look at the risk factors. When exactly can you expect heartburn?
You May Get Heartburn After Consuming Certain Foods
People tend to experience heartburn after they ate high-fat or extremely spicy food. Acidic fruits and juices can cause heartburn as well (for example, tomatoes, citrus fruits, or pineapple). Consuming peppermint, chocolate, or onions puts you at risk as well.
Additionally, you may experience it when you have an exceptionally large meal or you eat late at night.
Caffeine, Alcohol, and Carbonated Drinks Can Be a Risk Factor
These beverages increase stomach acid secretion.
Certain Types of Medication Can Lead to Heartburn
Aspirin and ibuprofen are frequent causes of acid reflux. Antibiotics and some food supplements increase the risk too.
Smokers Are Likelier to Experience Heartburn
Doctors have found that smoking and heartburn are connected for several reasons. The tobacco in cigarette relaxes your esophageal sphincter, which allows acid to pass through. Smoking may result in severe coughs, and coughing makes acid reflux more severe. Additionally, smoking decreases acid production and this leads to increased irritation in your esophagus.
Pregnant Women Are Especially at Risk
During pregnancy, the body goes through changes in hormone production. Progesterone levels go up, which leads to some muscles relaxing. When it affects the muscles around your esophagus, it causes acid reflux.
Obesity and Heartburn Are Linked
Research shows that gaining weight increases your likelihood of experiencing heartburn. It’s not clear yet how the two conditions are connected. One possibility is that extra fat puts pressure on the stomach, which causes the acid to rise up to the esophagus.
Treatment – What Can You Do About It?
If your heartburn is fleeting and happens rarely, you don’t need to do anything about it. It’s a brief discomfort that’s easy to ignore.
But in cases of persistent or long-lasting heartburn, lifestyle changes are a good idea. It helps to lose weight and to give up smoking and drinking. Some people go on heartburn diets, which means keeping away from acidic foods.
You can also opt for antacids and other over-the-counter medication. For people who experience heartburn during the night, it helps to elevate the head of the bed.
Do you ever need to turn to a doctor?
If your heartburn persists after you’ve initiated lifestyle changes, it’s a good idea to seek medical help. Your doctor might be able to prescribe the latest antacids that are not yet available OTC or better home treatment options.
Very frequent heartburn may be a sign of chronic acid reflux (GERD). This can be dangerous, as it can cause permanent changes in your esophagus. If this is the case for you, you will need serious medical help. The complications of acid reflux are treated via surgery.
A Final Thought
Unfortunately, a heart attack can be mistaken for heartburn, and vice versa. When you experience a tightening chest pain, it’s important to ask some questions. You don’t want to risk leaving a cardiac issue untreated just because you made the wrong assumption.
Remember to ask yourself, “What does heartburn feel like?” It comes with a burning sensation. In contrast, heart issues come with a squeezing, tightening pain in the chest. Heart pain might spread out to the lower jaw, shoulders, and neck.
It’s also important to observe other symptoms. Heartburn may cause bloating and bad breath. If you feel fatigued, breathless, and you’re breaking out in cold sweat, contact emergency services. These are the symptoms of a heart attack.