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Heartburn is an unpleasant feeling in the middle of the chest – a burning feeling that can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
You can get it at any time of the day, and it can even sometimes cause you to wake up from sleep in the middle of the night.
Often heartburn can be treated at home with the feeling passing, however, people may also require prescribed medication to help control regular heartburn.
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Here we take a closer look at what heartburn is, why we get it, and what we can do to get rid of it.
What is heartburn?
Despite its name, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart.
Heartburn creates a burning feeling in the chest, which is caused by stomach acid that travels up towards the throat.
Heartburn is also called acid reflux and if it keeps reoccurring it is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, known as GORD for short.
Why do we get heartburn?
Heartburn happens when the stomach acid travels up the tube that carries food from the stomach to the throat, this is called the esophagus.
When you swallow, a band of muscles around the bottom of the esophagus relaxes to allow food and liquid to travel down into the stomach.
After this, the muscles tightened again. If the lower esophagus relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up towards the throat (acid reflux) causing the feeling of heartburn.
Symptoms of acid reflux
Here are some of the main symptoms of heartburn, or acid reflux:
- Burning sensation in the middle of the chest
- An unpleasant taste in the mouth, caused by the stomach acid
- A cough or hiccups that keep recurring
- Bad breath
- Bloating or feeling sick
- A croaky voice
Often symptoms can become worse after eating, and when lying down or bending over.
What causes heartburn?
Some people may experience heartburn regularly whereas others may just the odd time, there is often no reason why people get heartburn.
However, it can be caused or made worse by the following, as stated on the NHS website:
- Certain food and drink – such as coffee, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, and fatty or spicy foods
- Being overweight
- Stress and anxiety
- Some medicines, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen)
- A hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach moves up into your chest
Ways to prevent heartburn
There are a few ways to help reduce heartburn and acid reflux from occurring, these include:
- Eating small and more frequent meals
- Raising your bed slightly at the top so your head and chest is above the level of your waist
- Losing weight if you’re overweight
- Relaxing the body
- Do not eat or drink certain things that trigger symptoms
- Do not eat within three to four hours before bed
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol or smoking
- Wearing lose clothing
- Standing or sitting up straight
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If you’re struggling with heartburn regularly, speak to a pharmacist for advice, they may be able to provide recommended medicine to help.
Alternatively, you should see a doctor if you suffer from heartburn most days for three weeks or more, if pharmacy medicines aren’t working, or if you experience other symptoms as well such as food getting stuck in the throat or frequently being sick.
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