Heartburn
6 Case Studies
4 Member Stories

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone that can extend to the neck, throat, and face. The pain is more pronounced after a meal, and can be felt in the evening, or in a lying down or bending over posture.

Occasional heartburn is somewhat common and no cause for worry. Lifestyle changes can help most people to manage the pain of heartburn and if needed, over-the-counter medications can help. There are many natural treatments that can help heartburn.

Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD treatment may require prescription medications and, occasionally, surgery or other procedures. GERD can seriously damage your esophagus or lead to precancerous changes in the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus.

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn, sometimes referred to as acid indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux, is extremely common. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 60 million Americans report having heartburn at least once a month, and some studies report more than 15 million Americans have symptoms daily. The incidence of heartburn usually increases with age. Nonetheless, it's common-and often overlooked in babies and children.

Heartburn occurs when digestive juices in the stomach move back up into the esophagus, the tube connecting the throat to the stomach. The top third of the esophagus is made of skeletal muscle which propels down the food. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a thick band of muscle that encircles the esophagus just above the uppermost part of the stomach. 

This sphincter is usually tightly closed--opening only when food passes from the esophagus to the stomach--and prevents the contents of the stomach from moving back to the fragile esophageal tissue. The gut has a thick mucous coating that protects it from the powerful hydrochloric acid it secretes to digest food. However the much-thinner esophageal mucous coating doesn't protect against stomach acid. Thus, if the LES opens inappropriately or fails to close completely, stomach acids may back up and burn the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Occasional heartburn is usually nothing to worry about. However, chronic or frequent heartburn (recurring over twice a week) is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and requires early detection. If the esophagus is vulnerable to stomach acid and digestive enzymes, ulcerations, scarring, and thickening of the esophageal walls may lead to. This causes a narrowing of the inside of the esophagus that may affect swallowing and the peristaltic movements that send food down. Repeated esophageal irritation also could result in Barrett's syndrome--changes in the kinds of cells lining the stomach.

Nighttime heartburn, affecting about 80 percent of heartburn sufferers, is more damaging to the esophagus than daytime drowsiness. It often interferes with sleep and might trigger symptoms in asthma sufferers. Gastroesophageal reflux may occur in children under age one, especially pre-term infants or people with cerebral palsy. Additionally, it might be a cause of some migraine headaches. Additionally, chronic heartburn can be a sign of a gastric ulcer or coronary artery disease.

Heartburn is caused by:

• a relaxed LES that does not close properly

• over-production of stomach acid

• increased stomach pressure

• a damaged esophagus with increased acid sensitivity


Many factors can contribute to LES malfunction:

• irregular eating, skipping meals

• smoking

• caffeine

• stress

• some medications, including drugs that limit nerve reactions

• paralysis and scleroderma (an autoimmune disease that hardens body organs)

• large meals that distend the stomach and prevent the LES from closing

• alcohol, which lowers the pressure on the LES, allowing it to relax and open. 

• weakening LES with increasing age


Hiatal hernias are common among pregnant women, smokers, the obese, and those over age 50. The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm (the large muscle that divides the chest cavity and the stomach ) through which the esophagus connects to the stomach. In case the hiatus loses its tautness and form, the stomach may float, forming a pocket just below the LES where stomach acid could be trapped. These hiatal hernias can cause the LES to relax and open.

Hiatal hernias may result in frequent and severe heartburn and GERD. Various factors can increase stomach pressure, thereby causing gastroesophageal reflux:

 • obesity

• lying down soon after eating

• tight clothing

• Pregnancy, which causes the enlarged uterus to displace the stomach, delaying the removal of stomach contents

Eating too fast, chewing insufficiently, and smoking all increase stomach acid production. Smoking also dries up saliva that protects the esophagus from acid.


Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some people, including:

• greasy, fried, or fatty foods

• spicy foods

• black pepper

• such acidic foods as tomatoes, pickles, and vinegar

• chocolate

• coffee with or without caffeine

• peppermint or other mints

What are the symptoms of heartburn?


Heartburn itself is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux and GERD. Heartburn sufferers may salivate excessively or regurgitate stomach contents into their mouths, leaving a sour or bitter taste.

• A burning pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating and may happen at night

• Pain that worsens when lying down or bending over

• Bitter or acidic taste in the mouth

• painful or difficult swallowing

• sore throat

• hoarseness, coughing

• pneumonia

• gingivitis, bad breath

• earache

Natural treatments & remedies for heartburn

Lifestyle changes and some home reedies can help alleviate heartburn:

• Maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds put pressure on your stomach, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.

• Avoid tightfitting clothes, which puts pressure on your stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter.

• Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn.

• Avoid lying down after a meal.

• Avoid late meals.

• Elevate the head of your bed in the event that you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep. 

• Avoid alcohol and smoking. Both smoking and drinking alcohol decrease the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to work properly.

• Avoid big meals. Instead Eat many smaller meals throughout the day.


Herbal remedies


These herbal remedies may be helpful to soothe heartburn:

• ginger as a tea or candied. (Ginger by itself may cause heartburn in some people.)

• chamomile tea

• slippery elm tea

• cinnamon tea

• dill, and/or fennel seed tea

• cardamom on buttered raisin toast

• turmeric added to warm water

• marsh mallow root 

• peppermint tea (Peppermint also can cause heartburn by relaxing the LES.)


Ayurveda remedy

According to Ayurveda, adding sweet, bitter and astringent foods into your diet helps bring relief from acid reflux. Add watermelon, split moong dal, green leafy vegetables, banana and cucumbers to your diet. Ayurveda believes in using natural herbs to cure many different ailments, and acid reflux is no exception. Adding these herbs to your diet might help heal heartburn


Homeopathic remedies

Homeopathic remedies for heartburn include:

• Calcarea carbonica

• Nux vomica after eating spicy foods

• Carbo vegetalis after eating rich foods

• Arsenicum album (for burning pain)

• Natrum muriaticum (for nervousness, tension, and pain)

• Zinc metallicum after eating too fast



Other remedies


A variety of other remedies and Remedies may be used to treat heartburn:

• Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) reduces esophageal acidity immediately. However, its effect is short-lived and it should not be used by people on sodium-restricted diets.

• Nutritional remedies include carrots, celery, angelica, fennel, and/or parsley. These could be combined in a juice taken before meals.

• Acupressure points

• In Chinese medicine, foods and herbs that balance and cool The qi (Chinese word for universal life energy), such as radishes, radish seed, citrus fruit peels, and cardamom.

• Walking following a meal.

• Chewing gum after eating to help produce saliva for soothing The esophagus and washing acid back in the stomach.

• Relaxation therapy, visualization, and deep breathing.

Prevention of heartburn

Because of the risk of GERD, Barrett's syndrome, and esophageal cancer, prevention of heartburn is very important. Heartburn usually is preventable with dietary and lifestyle changes.

• eating slowly, chew thoroughly, and take deep breaths between snacks

• quitting caffeine, chocolate, onions, spicy foods, and mint, all of which are inclined to increase stomach acid and relax the LES

• preventing fatty, fried, and greasy foods. Fatty foods relax the LES and slow stomach emptying, and fat consumption has been linked to GERD

• avoiding milk, garlic, peppers, and carbonated drinks

• avoiding nicotine

• avoiding citrus fruits and juices and tomato-based foods

• substituting meat at dinner with carbs and easier to digest proteins like rice, beans, and pastas

• avoiding alcohol

• drinking tea made with crushed caraway seeds with meals


Lifestyle changes that can alleviate heartburn include:

• avoiding drugs known to lead to heartburn 

• preventing clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen

• not lying down until the stomach is empty--within about three hours of eating

• elevating the head of the bed six to nine inches to prevent nighttime heartburn

• avoiding strenuous exercise for two to three hours after a meal

References

Gayle Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine

Mayo Clinic: website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373229

GERD. Medline Plus website. nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/gerd.html. 

Glynn S. Frequent heartburn increases risk of throat cancer by 78% percent. MedicalNewsToday website. medicalnewstoday.com/articles/260965.php. Published May 24, 2013. 

Acid reflux (GER & GERD) in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults#2.

Acid reflux. American College of Gastroenterology website. patients.gi.org/topics/acid-reflux.

Get a Consultation
(650) 539-4545
Get more information via email