Heartburn is the term commonly used to describe the digestive condition called acid reflux. It occurs when the lower muscles of the esophagus don’t work as they are supposed to, resulting in the backflow of food and stomach acids into the throat. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, 20% of Americans suffer from acid reflux daily. A study conducted by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project showed that 4.7 million hospitalizations in 2010 were related to acid reflux.
The most commonly reported symptom of heartburn is an uncomfortable pain or burning in the middle of the chest after food consumption. From infants and young children to adults and elderly patients, heartburn can affect anyone at any time in their life. Some symptoms last for minutes, while others last for hours. Patients who suffer from chronic heartburn don’t have the protective layers needed along the lining of the esophagus to beat powerful digestive acids of the food and drinks they consume. Since certain foods and medications can cause the condition, it can also be acute.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Heartburn
Patients who suffer from heartburn may experience the following symptoms:
- A burning sensation in the chest behind the breastbone after eating
- Chest discomfort when being over or lying down
- A burning sensation in the throat
- A sour or acidic tasting fluid in the back of the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- The feeling of food sticking in the chest or throat
- Bad breath
Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t. This can be caused by:
- Increased pressure on the abdomen from overeating, being overweight, or pregnancy
- Lying down too soon after eating
- Frequently drinking alcohol, caffeine, or carbonated beverages
- Certain medications, including:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Certain medications used to treat asthma
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Trigger foods, including:
- Spicy foods
- Foods high in fat
- Greasy foods
Is Indigestion Different from Heartburn?
Unlike heartburn, indigestion affects the lining of the stomach in the upper abdomen. Commonly referred to as an upset stomach, the medical term for indigestion is dyspepsia. Patients frequently report an uncomfortable and painful feeling in the stomach during or shortly after eating. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, 1 in 4 people in the United States suffer from indigestion each year. While indigestion is not considered a medical disease, it can be a sign of certain digestive tract diseases or conditions.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Indigestion
The most common signs and symptoms of indigestion include:
- A feeling of fullness in the abdomen
- Pain or burning in the upper abdomen
- An acidic taste in the mouth
- Decreased appetite
- A rumbling or growling stomach
What Causes Indigestion?
The most common causes of indigestion include:
- Drinking too much alcohol, caffeine, or carbonated beverages
- Eating too fast
- Eating too much
- Chewing with your mouth open which causes you to suck in excess air
- Eating food your body doesn’t react well to
- Certain medical conditions, including:
- Acid reflux
- Gallbladder inflammation
- Hiatal hernia
- Food poisoning
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
- Stomach cancer
- Certain medications, including:
- Thyroid medications
- Blood pressure medications
- Cholesterol medications
- Pain medications
Risk of Leaving Chronic Heartburn and Indigestion Untreated
While indigestion and heartburn are not dangerous when they occur occasionally, many patients report chronic symptoms. Chronic heartburn and indigestion can be a significant problem for your overall health when left untreated. The risk of avoiding treatment with these two digestive issues includes:
- Damage to the esophagus from the backflow of acid. This can lead to more serious gastrointestinal conditions, such as:
- Esophageal ulcers
- Esophageal stricture
- Barrett’s Esophagus
- Increased risk of esophageal cancer
- Tooth decay
- Stomach ulcers
- Abnormalities of the pancreas
- Poor quality of life
Everyday Tips for Living with Heartburn and Indigestion
If you suffer from chronic heartburn, the following lifestyle and health changes will not only help you live with the condition but also help you combat the issue:
- Avoid going to bed with a full stomach. Eat at least 2-3 hours before you lie down. This will give your body enough time to digest your food and lower the acid levels in your esophagus.
- Eat slowly. This will help you to avoid overeating and digest your food properly.
- Avoid overeating. If this is an issue, eat smaller meals every 4-5 hours.
- Avoid trigger foods that worsen your heartburn.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Keep a food log to help identify what foods can trigger the symptoms.
- Raise the head of your bed, so your chest is higher than your feet when lying down.
- Drink more water.
- Time your exercise with meals. Avoid overexerting yourself too close to food consumption.
- Reduce stress.
There are several medication options to help ease the symptoms of heartburn if lifestyle changes don’t work. Over-the-counter antacids help stamp out acids in the stomach. While these medications work instantly, they aren’t long-lasting. H2 blockers, such as Pepcid and Zantac, are also available over-the-counter. They slow down the acid production in the stomach. If over-the-counter medications don’t work, talk to your healthcare provider about prescription medication options. In some cases, a surgical procedure called fundoplication may be necessary. During this procedure, a surgeon wraps the stomach around the bottom of the esophagus to strengthen it and keep acid where it belongs.
If you suffer from indigestion, the following lifestyle and health changes will not only help you live with the condition but also combat the issue:
- Avoid chewing with your mouth open or talking while eating. This will reduce the risk of taking in too much air while you eat.
- Be aware of triggers.
- Keep a food diary to help identify foods that might give you indigestion.
- Eat slowly and consume less.
- Avoid drinking with meals. Try to limit your beverage intake to 20 minutes before or after you eat. If you must drink while you eat, avoid carbonated beverages. Stick to room temperature water.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise at the right time. Exercising too close to when you eat can increase the risk of indigestion.
- Drink herbal tea. Peppermint, ginger, or chamomile teas help neutralize the acids in the stomach.
- Pay attention to your body. Notice what your eating and lifestyle habits are when you have indigestion.
- Drink milk or water to ease the acids in your stomach.
- Take problem medications with food.
Over-the-counter medications, such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium, are available to help ease the symptoms of indigestion. If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications don’t help, and indigestion becomes chronic, speak to your healthcare professional. Since indigestion can be a sign of a variety of medical conditions, it’s best to get the opinion of your healthcare provider to rule out a more severe disease.
When to Go to the Nearest Urgent Care
Symptoms of both heartburn and indigestion can last for minutes or hours. If symptoms persist or become more serious, get in touch with your healthcare provider, or visit the nearest urgent care facility. Severe symptoms include:
- Black, tarry stool or presence of blood in the stool
- Chronic vomiting or blood in the vomit
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble swallowing
- The feeling of lightheaded, dizziness, or passing out
- Severe pain in the abdomen, chest, or throat
Since heartburn and indigestion can both give you symptoms of discomfort, burning, or pain in the chest, it may be difficult to distinguish these issues from signs of a heart attack. If either condition comes with the following symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room immediately:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe chest pain
- Pain that radiates to the jaw, back, neck, or arm
If you have symptoms of heartburn or indigestion that worsen or become bothersome, we’re here to help. iCare is a hybrid, freestanding emergency room, and an urgent care center dedicated to immediate care, emergency or not. Our urgent care facility is open daily from 7 AM- 8 PM, and our emergency room is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both are staffed by professional healthcare providers with years of experience treating common medical conditions, including heartburn and indigestion. With a team dedicated to quality, friendliness, and speed, we’re here to provide thorough and attentive care to all our patients. Give us a call at (203) 407-8668 or stop by one of our locations in Frisco, Fort Worth, or Argyle today.