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Listen to Your Heart: What Your Heartburn Is Telling You

Apr 17, 2024

When heartburn hits, you can't miss it. As this fiery, acidic feeling climbs up your esophagus, the only thing you can think about is finding a way to relieve the pain. Heartburn is common, but it can indicate serious health problems. Here’s what you need to know about treating this condition and when you should see your doctor. 

What is heartburn? 

Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest that moves up your throat and neck. It can lead to difficulty swallowing and can cause an acidic taste in your throat. This uncomfortable feeling often worsens after eating or while lying down and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. 

“Heartburn occurs when some of your stomach acids travel back up through the esophagus during reflux,” said Thomas Moccia, D.O., cardiologist and member provider of Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care. “Reflux happens when the valve separating the stomach and the esophagus doesn’t close properly.” Causes of reflux include: 

  • Pregnancy 
  • Some medications, including aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 
  • Hiatal hernias, a condition causing the top of your stomach to bulge through your diaphragm 

Heartburn triggers

For some people, heartburn gets triggered by eating and lifestyle habits. For instance, consuming large portions of food or eating too close to bedtime can result in heartburn. The types of food you eat can also affect you. Tomatoes, citrus fruits, onions, fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages can all cause heartburn. 

Other factors that can trigger heartburn include: 

  • Smoking 
  • Obesity 
  • Increased stress levels 
  • Wearing tight-fitting clothing 

Managing your symptoms 

“Over-the-counter medications, such as antacids and acid blockers, can treat heartburn,” said Dr. Moccia. “If your heartburn persists, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength acid blockers or a proton pump inhibitor, which effectively blocks acid production.”

Making lifestyle changes can also help alleviate your heartburn. Cutting back portion sizes, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding foods that trigger you can help you manage the frequency and duration of your heartburn. 

When to see a doctor

“Although most people experience occasional heartburn, talk to your doctor if you experience heartburn often or if it keeps getting worse,” said Dr. Moccia. “Persistent heartburn is linked to other health conditions, including chronic cough, respiratory issues, inflammation, GERD and Barrett’s esophagus, a common precursor to esophageal cancer.” 

Severe heartburn can be hard to distinguish from a heart attack. If you experience persistent chest pain and are unsure whether it’s heartburn, seek emergency help immediately. Diagnostic tests can help your doctor determine the cause of your symptoms. At Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care, we provide innovative cardiac solutions and diagnostic testing, ensuring you get the care you need. 

Topics: Cardiology & Heart Health