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Heartburn Health Issue

by Ron Kurtus (updated 3 January 2002)

When people eat too much, eat the wrong food, and/or exercise or go to sleep too soon after eating, they can suffer what is called heartburn. This consists of a burning feeling rising from the stomach to the throat, and is often felt as an intense pain in the chest.

Treatment usually consists of a change of eating habits.

Questions you may have on heartburn are:

This lesson will answer those questions. Health Disclaimer

What causes heartburn

When you eat too much or eat food that causes the stomach to secrete excess acids, those stomach acids may leak from the stomach back up into the esophagus, causing a burning pain or dull ache just about where you think your heart ought to be, right behind your breastbone.

Sometimes is can be caused by a hiatal hernia, which is a weak point or pocket in the esophagus.

Heartburn can also occur if you exercise too soon after a big meal. Exercise often slows down the digestive process, resulting in excess acids splashing around. Also, laying down right after eating a big meal can result in stomach acid irritating the upper regions of the stomach, as well as the esophagus.

Continual irritation can actually cause damage to the membranes and make them even more sensitive to an acid attack.

Be cautious of heart attacks

Since heartburn results in a pain right behind the breastbone, heart attacks may sometimes be mistaken for heartburn and vice versa. You should be able to recognize the difference between them.

Signals of heart attack are not only mild or intense pain in the same area of heartburn, but it is accompanied by dizziness, nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, weakness, and anxiety. If you have any of these symptoms along with the burning sensation, and you have any doubt about what's causing them, call 911.

Treatment for heartburn

If heartburn is to blame, lifestyle changes can help prevent future bouts. Avoid foods and beverages that contribute to acid indigestion, such as fried and high-fat foods, chocolate, alcohol, and coffee. Eat small, frequent meals and don't eat right before bedtime. If you still get heartburn, antacids and prescription drugs can help.

Frequent heartburn may signal gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a disorder that can lead to chest pain, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, and asthma. Discuss regular heartburn with your doctor. He or she can recommend lifestyle changes and may prescribe an acid blocker that can reduce or even stop symptoms.


Overeating and exercising or laying down after eating can result in heartburn. You should know the symptoms of a heart attack, so that you don't confuse them with heartburn. Changing your lifestyle and some medications can relieve the symptoms.

Be confident about your health

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) News and tips on digestive health.

American College of Gastroenterology Information about gastrointestinal conditions. Message board lets you share information with others who have digestive disorders.

General Health Resources


(Notice: The School for Champions may earn commissions from book purchases)

Stop the Heartburn: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Symptoms of One of America's Most Common Health Problems by David S. Utley, M.D. and Kathryn M. Utley. Lagado Publishing 1997, $8.95. Guide offers practical advice for preventing and managing heartburn and GERD.

Good Food for Bad Stomachs by Henry D. Janowitz, M.D. Oxford University Press, 1998, $13.95. Examines relationship between field and digestive disorders and offers diet plans to help alleviate symptoms of heartburn, GERD, and other conditions.

Gastrointestinal Health by Steven R. Peikin, M.D. HarperCollins, 1999, $15.00. An approach to reducing heartburn and GERD that combines a healthy diet, exercise, stress management, and medication.

Top-rated books on Being Heartburn and GERD

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