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It May Burn, But It’s Not Your Heart: Why Do I Get Heartburn?

It may burn, but it's not your heart. Learn the truth behind heartburn on this Moment of Science.

heart-shaped candle burning

Photo: Funkyah (Flickr)

Heartburn can be a real nuisance.

Did you know heartburn isn’t related to your heart? It probably has more to with the foods you eat.

It feels like your chest is on fire because your stomach acid leaks up into your esophagus, where it irritates the tissue and stings. Your esophagus doesn’t have the thick mucous lining that protects your stomach from acid.

Why Do I Have Heartburn?

The most common reason for heartburn is eating too much, so acid overflows into the esophagus. Lying down with a full stomach makes it worse because gravity can’t help keep the acid in.

And greasy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate all increase acid production in your stomach, which results in heartburn.

Taking an antacid or a little baking soda in water neutralizes the acid. But if it happens often, check with your doctor.

Severe, chronic heartburn can damage the lining of the esophagus and increase the risk of esophageal cancer. If acid gets into your trachea, it causes asthma-like symptoms and hoarseness.

What’s The Best Prevention?

Medication can turn off stomach acid production and surgery can help, too. Even for severe heartburn, avoiding big meals,  alcohol, caffeine, and greasy food is the best prevention.

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