What does heartburn feel like? Thousands of people search for the answer to this question every month, which isn’t surprising when you consider 1 in 3 Americans suffer from heartburn on a regular basis. And while this seems like a simple question, there’s more to our answer than you might think.
The sensation of heartburn
Heartburn is frequently described as a burning sensation behind your breastbone in the center of your chest. Some people say it’s definitely a burning sensation, but for others it feels like pain, unease, or discomfort that may start in your abdomen or extend all the way up to your throat. Regardless of how you describe it, though, there’s one key point to understand: that sensation is a symptom that something is wrong in your body and identifying the cause of YOUR symptoms is the key to finding relief.
What causes heartburn?
Acid reflux is one of the most common causes of heartburn. The sensation results when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle at the junction of the stomach and esophagus, opens inappropriately. A healthy LES acts as a barrier that opens with you swallow to allow food and drink to pass into the stomach, and then closes to keep the contents of the stomach where they belong – in the stomach. When the LES opens inappropriately, the highly acidic contents of the stomach can flow back up into the esophagus, irritating its delicate lining and causing that common burning sensation.
While occasional acid reflux generally isn’t a problem, repeated reflux can damage and weaken the LES to a point where it no longer acts as an effective barrier, resulting in a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Other common acid reflux symptoms include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain. GERD symptoms 101 takes a closer look at the varied symptoms of GERD.
But heartburn can be caused by a variety of other conditions, as well. Heart disease, gallstones, and esophageal motility disorders (such as nutcracker esophagus and achalasia of the esophagus) can all cause the symptom of heartburn. That’s why it’s so important to determine the cause of your symptoms, instead of assuming your heartburn is caused by acid reflux.
Always seek immediate medication attention if you think your symptoms may be related to a heart condition!
What to do if you have heartburn
First and foremost, take all of your symptoms seriously – even if they don’t seem like a big deal. They are signs from your body that something is wrong. I’m sorry to tell you this…you have esophageal cancer offers an eye-opening look at how seemingly minor symptoms can lead to serious complications. Then, if you find yourself routinely popping an antacid or have been taking acid reducing medication for more than two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor to get to the bottom of your symptoms. A GERD expert will provide the appropriate evaluation to differentiate between the potential causes of your symptoms, so you can determine the best path forward to treat your symptoms.