Heartburn – The How and Why Story

February 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Acid Reflux

Belch. Burp. Yuck. You have a distasteful liquid enter your mouth from the wrong direction. You could be having a bout of acid reflux or heartburn. The food served at the party was simply yummy. Ignoring the commands of your wits and etiquette, you hogged a lot. Here you stand with the after effects.

The food that you pop into your mouth walks over your throat, down the esophagus tube, knocks at a door called the sphincter valve and then into the stomach. The stomach secretes certain acids to digest the food. These acids are so potent, if you dip your fingers in it, you could burn your fingers. But the stomach is protected because it has an acid-proof lining.

Sometimes the acid in the stomach squirts up the sphincter valve, the esophagus, the throat and into the mouth. When this happens you know you have gone through an episode of acid reflux. It leaves a burning sensation in the stomach, the esophagus, the throat and the mouth. Since the esophagus, the throat and the mouth do not have the protective lining that the stomach has they get scalded and scarred with the acids. These are the fallout of long term suffering from acid reflux. Repeated erosion on the lining of the esophagus, throat and mouth, could also result in cancer at a later stage. Sometimes heartburn or acid reflux is accompanied with gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting and breathlessness.

The symptoms feel such that one wonders if one is suffering from a heart attack. That is the reason the problem got the name heartburn. Though there is absolutely no link to the heart. If it were a heart attack, the symptoms would be, pain in the chest radiating to neck and shoulder, pain in swallowing, vomiting of blood, blood stained motions or black coloured stools, breathlessness and giddiness. Similarly, if the heartburn like symptoms is felt before intake of food, it could be ulcer instead. Ulcer is a prefix to meals while heartburn is a suffix to meals.

Ideally the sphincter valve should not allow the food to back out of the valve once it has entered the stomach. The sphincter valve is so designed. Certain conditions render this sphincter valve to fail. When the muscles around the sphincter valve get weak, they loose control. When the subject has overindulged, the pressure exerted by the stomach walls, push some part of the food in the stomach up forcibly through the valve. A pregnant women’s enlarged womb pushes the stomach against the diaphragm thus inadvertently opening the sphincter valve the wrong way up.

Other reasons causing heartburn are intake of acidic foods, partaking alcohol and smoking. These addictions again loosen the sphincter muscles leading to the malfunctioning of the sphincter valve. Also they corrode the lining around the stomach and esophagus causing even more damage.

There are many other names for heartburn or acid reflux depending on the causative reasons and accompanied symptoms. Gastroesophageal reflux, dyspepsia, chronic heartburn or simply acid indigestion, are some of the names.

Take care to consume smaller or medium portions of food howsoever enticing they may look and taste. Do not help yourself to larger portions. Help yourself with smaller portions. It really helps.