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What exactly is heartburn?

It has nothing to do with your heart, so why call it heartburn? Probably because it’s easier than saying “esophageal burn.” Heartburn happens when acid escapes from your stomach up into your esophagus. Your lower esophageal sphincter is supposed to prevent that. But sometimes it relaxes or doesn’t close properly and the acid escapes. Unlike the stomach, the esophagus isn’t meant to house acid, so that’s when you feel the burn.

Mouth

Mouth:

Digestion begins here. As you chew, saliva begins to break the food down.

Esophagus

Esophagus:

Food travels down and is prepared for the stomach.

Lower Esophageal Sphincter

Lower Esophageal Sphincter:

This valve is meant to keep stomach acids down in your stomach; when it doesn’t, you may feel heartburn.

Stomach

Stomach:

Releases acid and enzymes to further break down your food. Acid’s not the bad guy, it’s only when it escapes up to where it doesn’t belong that you can feel heartburn.

Who gets heartburn?
Look around you. Many of the people you see get occasional heartburn. What triggers heartburn varies from person to person, but some of the common culprits can include diet, smoking, and being overweight.

Why some foods hurt
Food is the most common heartburn trigger, but why? Your stomach may react to some foods by increasing acid production, slowing down digestion, or inhibiting the esophageal sphincter’s ability to prevent stomach contents from leaking back into the esophagus. Tomatoes, fatty foods, and coffee are among the usual suspects.
Although there is a list of common triggers, everyone is slightly different. Two friends could eat the same tomato sauce, but only one might get heartburn. The best thing to do is to be aware of your own triggers and make smart choices.

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