This usually manifests itself as a painful burning sensation heartburn, which usually extends from the upper abdomen to the neck. The cause of heartburn is a backflow of stomach acid from the stomach into the esophagus, which then causes irritation by the stomach acid.
Schematic representation of the anatomy in reflux disease or heartburn. Click to enlarge.
A slight, sometimes unbearable burning sensation, an annoying pressure behind the breastbone indicates heartburn. These symptoms are caused by stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus. Occasional heartburn is harmless, if not exactly pleasant. However, if the symptoms occur more frequently or even become chronic, we speak of reflux disease or reflux oesophagitis.
Reflux means flowing back, which means that the corrosive stomach acid keeps flowing back into the esophagus. Heartburn can then cause considerable damage. Untreated reflux disease can lead to ulcers, which in the worst case can degenerate into esophageal cancer. So heartburn should not be taken lightly.
So what are the causes of heartburn? As mentioned earlier, with heartburn, instead of staying in the stomach, stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. It is a pathological disorder that can have various causes. Normally, stomach acid is prevented from flowing back through the sphincter, which ensures that the stomach is sealed off from the esophagus, preventing the extremely corrosive acid that causes heartburn from escaping.
People over the age of 40 are more likely to suffer from heartburn, because the relaxation of the sphincter muscle is a cause of reflux disease with increasing age. Food that is too fatty or too sweet, cigarette consumption, or stress can also lead to heartburn. Since alcohol consumption reduces the tension in the sphincter, it can also be blamed for heartburn. Being overweight creates higher pressure in the abdomen and thus on the stomach. The stomach acid can therefore flow back into the esophagus more easily. The pregnancy belly can also be one of the causes of heartburn.
Heartburn is very common. Usually it is not a problem either. The formation of acid in the stomach increases particularly with foods that are very high in sugar and fat. However, after a change in diet, heartburn usually goes away quickly. However, there are conditions that are linked to chronic heartburn.
It occurs particularly often with gastric ulcers or inflammation of the gastric mucosa. The main focus here is on the possible complications that result from gastric diseases. In the long term, stomach cancer can occur. With severe gastric ulcers, there is also a risk of a gastric perforation.
However, long-lasting heartburn itself can also lead to serious complications and secondary diseases. If the esophagus is constantly irritated by gastric acid flowing back, permanent inflammation forms there, which can never completely heal. Burning pain in the chest and difficulty swallowing occur initially. The pain increases especially when eating.
Chronic heartburn is also referred to as reflux disease. Barrett's esophagus is one of the long-term complications of reflux disease. These are cell changes that can lead to ulcers or even cancer in the esophagus.
Once esophageal cancer has developed, it grows very quickly and in the end stage completely closes the esophagus so that food can no longer be consumed. Chronic heartburn can also be associated with a rare pancreatic tumor, which increases stomach acid production.
Heartburn can affect many people and does not necessarily need to be treated by a doctor. If heartburn occurs only very rarely or after eating certain foods, a visit to the doctor is not necessary. Even a simple diet or change in diet can help reduce or completely avoid heartburn. As a rule, the person concerned should take it easy on the stomach and avoid sweet and fatty foods. There are also various resources available for you to help yourself with occasional heartburn.
However, a doctor should be consulted if the heartburn occurs permanently and is associated with severe pain. This can be a serious condition. Likewise, heartburn can cause irreversible damage to the body in the long run. In order to avoid consequential damage and further complications, a doctor should be consulted in the case of severe heartburn. As a rule, the first visit to the general practitioner takes place. They can prescribe heartburn medication for the patient. If the symptom does not go away even after taking the medication, a visit to a specialist is necessary.
How do you treat heartburn? If you have heartburn only occasionally, you shouldn't worry. Perhaps a compact meal that is too fatty is to blame for the symptoms. These can be relieved relatively quickly with an over-the-counter product that contains sodium hydrogen carbonate. It neutralizes stomach acid and can be taken without hesitation. Nevertheless, it would be desirable to consult your doctor or pharmacist in detail.
However, if heartburn occurs more frequently, it is time to review your diet. Fat and rich meals should be avoided in the evening. We recommend four to six meals spread over the day. You should also limit sweets and sugary drinks as much as possible. And stay away from excessive alcohol consumption. More obese people who suffer from heartburn should lose their excess weight. If heartburn occurs frequently, a specialist in gastric and intestinal diseases should be consulted.
The prospect of a cure is good for mild and moderate heartburn. Provided that the drug treatment is carried out promptly and before major injuries to the esophagus occur, the reflux disease can usually be cured within a few days. However, the cause is not eliminated, so the disease can recur.
Those affected can alleviate symptoms by following certain rules of behavior and diet. Until recovery, hoarseness, a slight sore throat and other typical symptoms occur at best.
In rare cases, however, heartburn can develop into Barrett's esophagus, which, if severe, can lead to esophageal cancer. A chronic illness can also lead to severe esophageal inflammation and thereby damage the mucous membrane.
Specific inflammations such as gastric laryngitis or pneumonia can rarely occur. Chronic bleeding as a result of mucosal damage can lead to anemia and also worsen the prognosis. In the case of chronic complaints, heartburn should therefore always be clarified by a doctor. This can determine the degree of the disease and thereby give an exact prognosis regarding the recovery process.
Home remedies ↵ for heartburn A gastroscopy will be essential if you have heartburn. This diagnostic procedure shows possible pathological changes in the esophagus. A biopsy, i.e. a tissue sample, is necessary in order to be able to demonstrate the degree of damage to the esophageal lining. Long-term medication with prescription acid blockers can usually help the doctor get the heartburn under control.
So how can you prevent heartburn? A healthy lifestyle is always a good prevention against a number of diseases, including heartburn. Consuming natural, low-calorie and low-fat foods helps prevent excessive stomach acid, which is responsible for heartburn, from being produced. Many small meals eaten with pleasure and at rest can prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
The unpleasant, painful heartburn is prevented. A lot of exercise through sports, hiking or dancing helps prevent obesity, one of the main causes of heartburn. Since gastric acid has a tendency to rise in reflux disease, you should sleep a little more at night with the help of an additional pillow. So no unpleasant heartburn disturbs the night's sleep.
In case of heartburn, the patient should definitely avoid unhealthy food. Above all, this includes fatty, sweet and sour food. Hot and pungent spices should also be avoided, as these can promote heartburn. The person concerned must also refrain from sweet drinks and alcohol. Juices can be drunk in the mild form with less acidity. Coffee should also be avoided.
To acutely reduce the heartburn, a little warm water can be drunk. This should not contain carbon dioxide. Bread and milk can also counteract heartburn. Nuts not only help against heartburn, they are very healthy for the body and an optimal source of energy. But home remedies such as chamomile tea can also help.
When sleeping, the patient should sleep with his head raised so that the gastric juice can flow back while lying down. Also, about two to three hours before going to bed, you should not eat any more food. When eating, the person concerned must be careful to chew the food well and not swallow it in large bites. It is also better to have smaller meals than to eat a large meal.
A heartburn diary can also be kept to prevent heartburn. The patient always notes there when the heartburn has occurred and what food or drink was consumed before it. This can prevent heartburn in the long term.