Burning pain in the chest, just beneath the breastbone, is known as heartburn. Often worsened by lying flat or at night, it is usually mild and quite common in people. It can usually be managed successfully by over-the-counter medication or lifestyle and diet modifications. Heartburn persistent and severely uncomfortable in nature is, however, a call for alarm and should be evaluated appropriately.
Heartburn commonly occurs due to acid reflux, which is caused when acid in the stomach flows backwards into the esophagus (a tube joining mouth and stomach) and irritates the lining inside the esophagus. It is common after ingestion of certain type of food (fatty, spicy food, alcohol, etc.) and in pregnant and overweight individuals.
Symptoms of heartburn include:
- Burning sensation beneath the breastbone
- Burning pain made worse on lying flat, and commonly after eating
- Sensation worsening on bending over
Heartburn associated with other symptoms such as jaw or arm pain, nausea, and vomiting, can be an indicator of heart attacks and must be checked by a health care physician immediately. Persistent heartburn that cannot be treated with OTC medication and that associated with difficulty in swallowing or eating also needs to be evaluated.
Recurrent burning in the heart can also lead to a condition known as GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease) in which acid may cause damage to the mucosal lining of the esophagus.
Heartburn diagnosis is concluded upon personal history and examination. To pinpoint a diagnosis of GERD with heartburn as a symptom X-rays, Endoscopy, and acid probe tests can be utilized.
Over-the-counter medication that usually provides relief includes:
- H2-Receptor Antagonists
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
Lifestyle modifications (reducing weight, avoiding alcohol) and choosing diet options carefully may also help with relief of symptoms.