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Health and Fitness News

Cool the Burn

What is the burning pain in your chest and how can you prevent it?

It strikes at night. You ate a big dinner and are ready to sleep. Then you lie down. Suddenly, you feel a sharp burning sensation in your chest, behind your breastbone. The pain keeps you awake and prevents a good night’s rest.

Heartburn is annoying and frustrating. But every once in a while, a bit of heartburn isn’t reason for concern. If it happens frequently, you’ll want to get it checked out. Before it gets to that point, do something about it. Most cases can be remedied with over-the-counter medications. Better yet, you can often prevent it with diet and lifestyle changes.

What Does It Feels Like?

If you have heartburn, it feels like a burning pain in your chest. Sometimes the pain spreads up the throat and neck, and it may cause an acidic taste in your mouth. Additionally, it may make it hard to swallow. Heartburn typically sets in after a meal and is most often felt at night. The burning worsens when you bend over or lie down. Heartburn can last a few minutes to several hours.

Why Does It Happen?

While it’s called heartburn, it has nothing to do with your heart. Why is it called heartburn? For a simple reason. The burning sensation is felt near the heart. When the pain is severe, it can be mistaken for a heart attack.

The food you swallow goes down a tube called the esophagus. It then moves through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) into your stomach. This valve opens and closes to allow food to pass through and to keep food and acids in your stomach. Sometimes, the LES doesn’t stay closed when it’s supposed to.

When this occurs, food and stomach acids are allowed to back up into your esophagus. This condition is known as reflux. When reflux kicks in, you experience heartburn.

What Causes It?

Reflux is common during pregnancy and can happen if you have a hiatal hernia. It’s also a side effect of certain medications including aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs. Some people have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that causes frequent heartburn.

You may recognize that your heartburn is triggered by certain things. Large meals, eating close to bedtime, and stress are common causes. In many cases, foods and drinks are the culprit. So the next time you have heartburn, think about what you last ate. Did your meal include tomatoes, citrus fruits, onions, garlic, spicy foods, chocolate, or fatty foods? Did you drink alcohol, citrus juice, coffee, or soda? These are all common causes.

Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, or wearing tight-waisted clothes or belts.

How Is It Treated?

The pain of heartburn can usually be relieved with over-the-counter antacid medications that neutralize stomach acids. Not always. See your doctor if you deal with heartburn more than twice a week, the pain persists after taking an antacid, it’s accompanied by nausea or vomiting, you have trouble swallowing, or you lose weight due to a poor appetite.

Your doctor may diagnose you with GERD, a condition that can lead to more serious health problems. Fortunately, GERD can be treated. In most cases, all that’s needed is medication that blocks stomach acid.

Never ignore pain in your chest. It could be a heart attack. If the pain or pressure is severe or is accompanied by difficulty breathing or pain in the jaw or arm, seek emergency medical attention.

Can It Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent heartburn is to avoid your triggers. Keep track of what you eat that may cause you to feel the burn. Also, wait a few hours after eating before lying down. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. And take steps to lose excess weight.