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Heartburn is a common and often minor condition, but if you experience heartburn frequently, you should talk to a doctor. Heartburn refers to a burning sensation in the esophagus, which is near the heart.
If you have heartburn, you’ll typically experience a burning pain in the chest. This pain usually occurs after you eat and commonly gets worse if you lie down or bend over.
Here’s why it happens: The stomach produces hydrochloric acid to digest food. Between the stomach and esophagus lies the lower esophageal sphincter. This sphincter acts as a valve that normally keeps food and stomach acid in the stomach and prevents the stomach’s contents from regurgitating (or refluxing) back into the esophagus.
The stomach has a mucous lining that protects it from hydrochloric acid, but the esophagus does not. If the sphincter doesn’t close properly, food and stomach acid regurgitate back into the esophagus, which causes heartburn—that burning feeling near the heart.
Some good news about heartburn: Because there are common triggers, you might be able to control it just by changing what you eat. The following are common heartburn triggers.
Antacids may be used to relieve heartburn by making stomach juices less acidic, therefore reducing the burning feeling in the esophagus.
If heartburn becomes frequent or prolonged, medical intervention may be necessary.
If you have heartburn frequently, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which, left untreated, can cause more serious conditions over time. Learn more about GERD, and take our quiz.
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