Heartburn is a burning sensation or pain in the chest behind the breastbone. The pain gets worse when lying down or bending over.
Occasional heartburn is common and can be managed with over-the-counter medications or lifestyle adjustments. However, frequent heartburn that interferes with daily activities may be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
The symptoms of heartburn include:
- Burning pain in the chest that occurs after eating or at night
- The pain worsens when lying down or bending over
Chest pain or pressure combined with pain in the arm or jaw or difficulty breathing may be symptoms of a heart attack, which requires immediate medical attention.
Heartburn usually occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.
A band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes to let food and liquid flow into the stomach and then tightens again. In the case that the esophageal sphincter weakens or relaxes abnormally, stomach acid may back up into the esophagus (acid reflux) and lead to heartburn.
Risk factors for heartburn include:
- Spicy foods
- Citrus products
- Tomato products
- Fatty or fried foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Coffee or other caffeinated drinks
- Being overweight
Frequent heartburn that interferes with daily routines can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause significant damage to the esophagus and may require treatment with medications or in some cases surgery.