Updated 07 July 2014

What is heartburn?

Heartburn, or reflux, is a burning pain that rises from the stomach to the chest.

What is heartburn?

The word reflux has become synonymous with the term heartburn, and indeed they are the exact same thing.

Heartburn, or reflux, is a burning pain that rises from the stomach to the chest, and sometimes into the throat. There may be regurgitation, which is a bitter or sour-tasting mass that forces its way into your throat or mouth.

Although the more common term “heartburn” is a very accurate description, the condition has nothing to do with the heart.

Certain symptoms of heartburn are however similar to symptoms of a heart attack or heart disease.

Is it heartburn or is it something more serious?

Chronic reflux and Acid Reflux Disease

Heartburn is the most common symptom of GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). GORD is a bona fide disease, though, and those of us who get occasional heartburn certainly don’t have GORD.

However,  If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, you may have GORD, which is also known as acid reflux disease.

It is possible to have GORD without experiencing heartburn.

Other symptoms of GORD/Acid Reflux Disease are bloating, burping, vomiting, hiccups, nausea, sore throat and dysphagia (a narrowing of the oesophagus which feels like food stuck in your throat).  

Why does it burn?

In order for food to be digested, it is necessary that the stomach, the digestive glands and the intestines produce various enzymes, including pepsin and hydrochloric acid. These acids and enzymes need to change the food into a semi-liquid form before it can be digested further.

Read: Beat pregnancy heartburn blues

The burning feeling in the centre of your chest is caused by stomach acids, mixed with the liquefied food, passing up through the oesophageal sphincter – a circular muscle that normally opens to allow food through and closes to stop stomach acids from coming back up the oesophagus (gullet).

When the food moves back up the oesophagus, it is called heartburn or acid reflux. The stomach acids in the partially digested food burn the oesophagus, as it does not have the same protective layer of mucus as the stomach lining. Usually this valve is tightly closed, but sometimes it is not completely tight and lets some of the stomach contents through.

Read more:

Is my heartburn serious?
Natural history of heartburn
Overuse of heartburn meds risky

Health24, June 2014


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