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What is Heartburn? Print E-mail
Written by Mike Cohen   
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Heartburn, is a condition in which stomach contents splash up into the esophagus. The esophagus is a narrow, muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

What is going on in the body?

The esophagus is connected to the stomach by the esophageal sphincter. This is a muscular ring. Normally, this muscle performs two major functions. It opens to allow food to pass into the stomach. It also closes to keep the stomach contents out of the esophagus.

If this sphincter weakens or relaxes, the contents of the stomach splash back up into the esophagus. This splashing is known as gastroesophageal reflux.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Heartburn can be caused by a weak esophageal sphincter that is present at birth or that develops later in life. A hiatal hernia can also cause Heartburn. Hiatal hernia is a condition in which the stomach pushes up into the diaphragm muscle. When this happens, the esophageal sphincter does not work properly. As a result, the fluid can easily leak back into the esophagus.

Factors that make Heartburn worse include the following:
- being overweight or obese
- being pregnant
- drinking alcohol or caffeine
- drinking carbonated beverages or fruit juice
- eating chocolate or peppermint
- eating fatty or spicy foods
- eating large meals
- lying down or bending over after a meal
- medications, such as anti-inflammatory medications
- smoking or using tobacco products

What are the treatments for the disease?

People with Heartburn can minimize symptoms by taking the following steps:
- Avoid carbonated drinks and fruit juices.
- Avoid eating food within three hours of bedtime.
- Avoid fatty or spicy foods.
- Don't smoke or use tobacco products.
- Eat small, frequent meals.
- Limit caffeine intake.
- Limit intake of alcohol, especially red wine.
- Manage weight to avoid obesity.
- Sleep with the head of the bed elevated.
- Stay upright after eating.

Some of the common medical and surgical treatments for Heartburn include the following:
- fundoplication, a surgical procedure that strengthens the esophageal sphincter
- gastrointestinal, or GI, stimulants that empty the stomach faster, such as metoclopramide
- H2 blockers, such as cimetidine, ranitidine, and famotidine
- proton-pump inhibitors, such as esomeprazole, omeprazole, lansoprazole, or rabeprazole

A surgical procedure known as dilation is done to correct an esophageal stricture.
The surgeon passes a series of dilators down the esophagus. The dilators gently stretch the narrowed opening apart.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Medications used to treat Heartburn may cause dry mouth, bloating, and allergic reactions. Surgery can cause bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the disease?

Treatment of Heartburn is lifelong to avoid complications such as Barrett's esophagus.

How is the disease monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

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