GI Problems FAQs

Heartburn


What is heartburn?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling of burning or warmth in the chest caused by too much stomach acid.

What is stomach acid?
The stomach produces stomach acid to help protect us against bacteria parasites.  It aids in helping with the absorption of iron, calcium and magnesium. When the acid backs up into the esophagus it can burn and cause heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

What is the esophagus?
The esophagus is the muscular tube that stretches between the mouth and the stomach. All the foods you eat and the liquids you drink go down the esophagus into the stomach.

Why does the acid back up into the esophagus?
A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) at the bottom of the esophagus normally prevents foods and acid from backing up. This muscle acts like a tight drawstring to close off the opening between the esophagus and stomach when you are not eating. Heartburn happens when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close all the way or relaxes inappropriately.

Why doesn’t the lower esophageal sphincter close all the way?

  • Certain foods and drinks loosen the lower esophageal sphincter such as chocolate, caffeine, fatty foods and alcohol.
  • Body positioning affects the lower esophageal sphincter, it’s easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus if you are lying down or bending over.
  • Any pressure on the stomach can force acid backward and cause heartburn such as lifting, coughing, tight clothing, obesity or pregnancy.

Do spicy foods cause heartburn?
Many substances directly irritate the lining of the esophagus and can contribute to heartburn. Spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato sauces, cigarettes, carbonated drinks and late night meals can also increase the production of stomach acid and decrease the LES pressure, leading to heartburn.

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