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'Heartburn' as a name, is rather misleading. One would think that it is something akin to heart attacks or such. But this is not the case. Heartburn is a condition that has got to do with the digestive system and the workings of it. There are several reasons that can lead to heartburn, but to understand the causes of heartburn, one must understand the workings of the stomach.

When we eat our food, it is passed from our mouths into the stomach. Before it reaches the stomach however, it needs to pass through a long tube known as the esophagus. Between the esophagus and stomach lies a small opening through which the food is passed into the stomach. This gap opens only for that much time as is required for the food to go into the stomach. Though sometimes, this gap might remain open or might not close properly, thus allowing the acid from the stomach to pass onto the esophagus. These acids will usually lead to a burning sensation in the stomach, accompanied by a feeling of rising sour bile in the mouth. This is known as heartburn. It can cause acrid belches, bloating and fullness in the stomach and a sour taste in the mouth.

Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn is caused when there is too much pressure on the stomach due to pregnancy, obesity or overeating. It can also be caused due to an under active LES (lower esophageal sphincter), which is responsible for tightening the muscles in the gap. Sometimes it does not tighten the way it should and thereby allowing the acids to escape. Heartburn in women is mainly due to pregnancy, cause there is too much pressure on the muscles of the stomach.

The main reasons that cause heartburn are:
  • Cigarette smoking.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Sleeping or lying down immediately after eating.
  • Carrying excess weight or suffering from obesity.
  • Eating chocolates.
  • Consuming citrus fruits (they have a high content of acid like substances in them).
  • Drinking any form of coffee or drinks which contain caffeine.
  • Certain carbonated drinks.
  • Eating tomatoes and onions.
  • Eating oily, spicy and fatty foods. All these are common foods that cause heartburn.
Usually heartburn only leads to an uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling that passes after some time. It is rarely possible to find a person who hasn't experienced heartburn sometime or the other in their lives. And it is fairly common. However, if the heartburn starts becoming frequent then it is becomes a matter of worry.

Chronic Heartburn Causes
The causes of chronic or severe heartburn are many. Many times, chronic heartburn is indicative of a more serious disease like GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease ), Hiatal hernia, esophagitis or Barrett's esophagus. It can also cause esophageal cancer in extremely severe cases. In cases where a person has started suffering from chronic heartburn, immediate medical attention is required. The doctor will probably make him go through some tests and put him on certain antacids or other more stronger medicines, according to the severity of the heartburn. He might also suggest changes in the lifestyle if that is what is causing the chronic heartburn to reemerge. He might prescribe a GERD diet for the same.

Heartburn Cures
Now that we know what some of the heartburn causes are, let us concentrate on treating and preventing them.
  • Lose weight if you suffer from obesity.
  • Take an antacid as this will neutralize the effect of the acids that are produced in the stomach.
  • Alternately, alginates and H2 antagonists can also be taken.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat a balanced diet and do not overeat.
  • Do not sleep or lie down for at least 2-3 hours after eating. Try and catch a few winks in a sitting position if sleep cannot be avoided.
  • Eat meals that have a high content of protein in them and are low in fat.
  • Avoid all those foods which can cause heartburn like chocolates, tomatoes, oily and fatty substances.
  • Do not wear tight and ill-fitting clothes as they can aggravate the heartburn.
  • If possible, don't completely lie down when you sleep. Either place 2-3 pillows under your head or raise the level of the head of the bed with the help of wooden blocks. This will help in preventing heartburn.
  • Eat a papaya. This has an enzyme called papain which helps to soothe the stomach.
  • Lying on your left side while sleeping reduces the chances of heartburn.
After having learned about the causes of heartburn, it is possible to treat them. But the best option is to bring about a change in one's lifestyle if one is prone to suffer from these. Take care and treat your body well!