Causes Heartburn

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Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus).

Normally when you swallow, a band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then the muscle tightens again.

If the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you’re bent over or lying down.

If the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you’re bent over or lying down.

Risk factors

Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some people, including:

  • Spicy foods
  • Onions
  • Citrus products
  • Tomato products, such as ketchup
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages
  • Large or fatty meals

Being overweight or pregnant also can increase your risk of experiencing heartburn.

Complications

Heartburn that occurs frequently and interferes with your routine is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD treatment may require prescription medications and, occasionally, surgery or other procedures. GERD can seriously damage your esophagus or lead to precancerous changes in the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus.

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