We all know it, at least have felt it. The burning feeling in your chest and throat with a hiccup is called heartburn. This is not a disease, more likely a symptom resulting from a number of conditions like eating some hot jalapenos to the chronic Gastroesophageal reflux disease. What happens is some acidic stomach content crawling its way back up to esophagus and lower pharynx giving the characteristic burning sensation. An occasional heartburn is very common and no need to worry but if you are experiencing it on a regular basis, you might need to consult your physician.
It is very common as around 15 million Americans are experiencing heartburn every day. According to statistics, more than 22 percent of primary care visits are for heartburn and the number seems to increase every year. There is no man or a woman who hasn’t experienced heartburn at least once in their life.
Yes, it is. Our GI system is designed for a ‘uniflow’ of ingested food, unlike several animals. So in any impairment, it's bound to cause some problems. The food we eat enters into the stomach through our food pipe (esophagus) and gets mixed with the acidic gastric juices which are essential for digestion and killing microbes. Our stomach lining is highly resistant to the acidity but not our food pipe. The epithelium in the esophagus is susceptible to be eroded by regular exposure to gastric juices leading to stimulation of the nerves in the epithelium, thereby giving the typical burn. When this occurs repeatedly, the condition is called GERD (Gastro esophageal reflux disease).
Everybody must know this, as a heart attack also may feel like a typical heartburn that can be neglected resulting more cardiac muscle damage. A heart attack must be treated quickly with anticoagulants and thrombolytics (e.g., streptokinase) as ‘minutes means muscle’. However, a person who frequently gets heartburn can ignore the symptoms as all heart attacks are not always excruciating. The reason behind this is the heart and esophagus are innervated with the same nervous supply. Due to this, if you having a persistent chest pain but not sure what it is, dial 911.
However, there are some clinical signs that can be used to differentiate heart attack from heartburn. Few are mentioned below.
Nevertheless, taking patent’s history and physical examination usually cannot differentiate and might need a number of investigations.
For an infrequent heartburn, medical treatment is not needed at all. Lifestyle changes and home remedies can reduce the frequency of episodes drastically.
The ugly truth is, for most episodes of heartburn poor lifestyle choices are responsible.
Like I have emphasized, if you are feeling persistent chest pain and you are not sure, it’s better to seek medical care immediately.