Heartburn refers to a burning sensation in your lower chest behind your breastbone (sternum). It isn’t related to your heart, but it may mimic the pain of heart attacks. You and millions all over the world may experience this sensation. It’s usually transient and easy to manage, but it may be a symptom of a more severe disease like GERD.
First, let’s know how heartburn occurs. You eat your food through your mouth and then travel through the esophagus to reach the stomach, where digestion begins. The esophagus connects your mouth and stomach. At its end, there is the LES (lower esophageal sphincter). LES is a macular valve that opens to pass the food into the stomach and then closes to keep it down. The stomach secretes a strong acid (HCL) to digest the swollen food. This acid doesn’t injure the stomach wall because it has a protective mucous layer. Unlike the stomach, the esophagus can’t tolerate this acid as it lacks protection against it. Thus, this acid is harmful to the esophagus.
The LES can’t close properly in heartburn, and the stomach contents (including the acid) leak towards the esophagus (acid reflux).
Heartburn is usually occasional and easy to manage with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle modifications. But, prolonged or frequent heartburn may indicate a severe disease, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and hiatal hernia. This burning sensation usually worsens after eating and at night. It may awaken you from sleep. Also, prolonged and ignored heartburn may cause serious complications, including esophageal strictures and cancer.
There is no clear cause for heartburn, but some conditions may raise its risk, such as pregnancy, obesity, smoking, and taking some medications. Also, some foods may trigger or worsen heartburn, like fatty, fried, and spicy foods.
Diagnosing heartburn is easy to establish by history and examination. But, if your doctor suspects any underlying diseases or complications, he will order some investigations to look for them.
Managing heartburn usually doesn’t require more than OTC medications and lifestyle modifications. Lifestyle modifications in heartburn include diet modifications to eliminate the triggering foods and eating the helpful ones.
What is the role of diet in heartburn?
Your diet may put you at a high risk of heartburn and may help you alleviate its burning sensation. Modifying your diet helps with the occasional heartburn and represents a vital component of managing GERD. It isn’t only about what you eat but also how much and when you eat.
Now, let’s discuss which diet habits you should modify, which foods trigger and worsen heartburn, and which foods help.