15 Most Common Causes for Heartburn and How to Avoid It
Has this ever happened to you: You wake up in the middle of the night because of chest pain and the sudden urge to vomit. You think it was just because of a bad dream, so you go back to sleep. Then, it happened again after a week, and then again the next week after that.
This is when you realize it must be heartburn.
Before you panic and despite its name, you should know that this condition has nothing to do with your heart. In fact, the causes of heartburn might even surprise you.
Check out these 15 common heartburn causes and find out the different preventive techniques you can do to stop this condition from ruining your sleep – and your life.
1. First, Get Up Close and Personal with Heartburn
Before you know the different circumstances causing heartburn, it is important to know what this condition is all about.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Consequently, there are 15 million individuals who experience this condition everyday and a common occurrence among pregnant women.
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus caused by stomach acids. The effects of heartburn give you a burning discomfort in your upper abdomen or below the breastbone.
Experiencing heartburn once a month is not alarming and can be treated through simple lifestyle changes. On the other hand, heartburn more than twice a week could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, which requires more advanced treatment.
2. Your Body: Understanding the Organs Involved in Heartburn
There are two organs involved in this condition: your stomach and esophagus, since the two are connected.
When you eat, your esophagus, which is made of made of muscles, pushes the food down to your stomach in rhythmic waves. With the help of hydrochloric acid, your stomach digests the food and converts it according to your body’s needs.
Once inside your stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter or LES prevents the food from going up into your esophagus. LES is that special circular muscle located at the junction of your stomach and esophagus.
When your LES is not in good condition, this could cause food regurgitation known as heartburn. The question now is this: what are the causes of heartburn? Read the succeeding sections to find out.
3. Your Clothing Choice: A Surprising Cause of Heartburn
Do you love wearing skinny jeans and tight belts? Is wearing tight shirts more of your style? If you are experiencing heartburn at least once a week, then you might want to evaluate your choices of clothing.
Tight clothing puts extra pressure on your abdomen. Extra pressure on your stomach area means there is a higher possibility for stomach contents to go up to your esophagus, since the acid has no place to go but up.
Does this mean you should retire your skinny jeans? If they are causing you heartburn, then that would be a good idea. As much as possible, wear comfortable clothes and avoid putting extra pressure on your abdominal area to minimize the possibility of heartburn.
4. Get to Know the Common Food and Drink Triggers That Cause Heartburn
All you want is to eat and get full. After all, you need energy to go through your daily activities. Unfortunately, there are some foods and drinks that could be the reason why you experience this condition. This is because there are certain foods that stimulate the increase of stomach acid secretion in your body and set the stage for heartburn.
Every person is different, but here are the most common foods that cause heartburn:
- Citrus fruits like orange and lemon, especially when taken in an empty stomach
- Carbonated soda since the carbonated gas adds pressure on the esophageal sphincter and promote reflux
- Tomatoes including tomato ketchup, which are also highly acidic
- Spicy foods
- Chocolate because of its ability to relax the sphincter in your stomach
- Onion and garlic, although this may vary from person to person
Aside from this, there are also other causes for heartburn, which you will learn more about below.
5. Think Before You Drink: Another Common Cause of Heartburn
Admit it. Your day will never be complete without coffee in it. At the same time, a party won’t be complete without your favorite alcoholic beverages, too. Apparently, this could be the causes of your heartburn at night.
Caffeine, such as coffee and energy drinks, relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter, which leads to heartburn. On the other hand, alcohol like wine and beer relaxes the sphincter in your stomach. This gives the stomach acids a chance to go up and enter your esophagus and trigger heartburn.
When your esophageal sphincter is relaxed, there is a higher probability and easier for your stomach acids to go up to your esophagus and wake you up at night.
6. Fatty Foods and Big Meals: A Lethal Combination That Leads to Food Regurgitation
Aside from what you eat, how you eat could also dictate whether you are a good candidate for heartburn. It’s hard to say no to burgers and pepperoni pizza. Unfortunately, fatty food is a cause of heartburn. Eating big meals is also among the many causes of acid reflux. Combine these two heartburn causes and you have a recipe for disaster.
The question is, how?
Foods high in fat, such as avocados, meat, nuts and cheese slow down the emptying of your stomach. This could make you feel bloated and could lead to heartburn. On the other hand, eating big meals, especially at night, could make it difficult for your stomach to digest. Since it takes longer for your stomach to get rid of the acid that helps digest the food, there is a possibility that the excess acid cold leak and go up to your esophagus.
Here’s the thing: eating fatty foods could not only cause heartburn but also affects your weight and overall body condition. This could lead to another health condition that could also contribute to heartburn. As to what this condition is, read the next section to find out.
7. Obesity or Overweight: Another Culprit for Your Heartburn Condition
Is your weight proportionate to your height? If you belong to the heavier side of the scale, then it could be the reason why you experience heartburn. In fact, new research showed that there is a link between obesity and heartburn. The more surprising part is women are more likely to be affected.
The Obesity-Heartburn Connection
Obesity means you have a body mass index that is beyond the average based on your weight and height. There are also extra stuffing on your stomach area, which could be the reason for increased risk of heartburn.
This is because the abdominal fats put extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. This could affect the normal function of your LES and makes it easier for the stomach acids to go up. That’s not all. Obesity is also related to related esophageal disorders like GERD, esophageal adenocarcinoma, and Barrett’s esophagus.
Regular physical activity and enrolling in a structured weight loss program could help a lot in eliminating heartburn from your system.
8. Keep Moving: Choose Your Exercise Routine Wisely
Exercise is good for your health and body. In fact, it helps maintain your weight and keeps your heart pumping.
Did you know that there are exercises that could trigger heartburn?
- Crunches and other abdominal-based workouts.
- Leg lifts and exercise routines that works on your abdominal muscles.
- Headstands or any move where your head is below your stomach.
- Certain yoga moves, such as the downward dog.
- Jarring exercises including jogging and aerobics.
Did you notice the similarities among these exercises? These workout routines either put extra pressure on your abdomen or reverse the natural flow of your stomach’s contents by defying gravity. This leads to heartburn.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean you should not exercise. Physical activity is still important to maintain a healthy weight. Make sure to go for exercises that don’t put too much pressure on your abdomen. At the same time, do not exercise on a full stomach to minimize heartburn.
9. Medication: One of the Heartburn Causes You Need to Look Into
Medications are there for a reason: it helps you address, treat, manage, or suppress a particular medical condition and make you feel better.
Here’s the catch: it might be the reason why you are experiencing heartburn. This is because there are drugs that irritate the lining of your esophagus or relax your LES, which makes it easier for stomach contents to go up.
Some of these medications that could trigger heartburn are:
- The regular use of aspirin.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen.
- Blood pressure medications.
- Calcium channel blockers.
- Sedatives and antidepressants.
- Narcotic and opioid painkillers.
- Hormones like progesterone.
- Asthma relief and prevention medications.
- Drugs for Parkinson’s disease.
In case you are taking any of these and experienced heartburn, make sure to consult your doctor about this and ask for alternatives.
10. Pregnancy: When Bun in the Oven Could Cause a Heartburn Situation
Pregnancy is one of the best things that could happen to you. No amount of words can describe the idea of carrying a new life inside you. Unfortunately, pregnancy comes with not-so-good changes in your body, including more heartburn.
You might ask, why?
The hormonal changes could be among the causes of heartburn in early pregnancy. These hormonal changes could weaken and relax your LES, thereby making it easier for stomach contents to go up. As your pregnancy progresses, your baby grows and causes extra pressure on the abdomen and changes in the valve’s proper position. This is among the causes of heartburn during pregnancy.
The good news is heartburn will stop after you give birth. Still, this doesn’t mean you are exempted from this condition. There is a possibility that you can have this again later on in your life.
11. Smoking: Another Heartburn Culprit Worth Quitting For
Are you looking for a reason to quit the habit? If you experienced heartburn at least once, then that should be your motivation to quit smoking.
Apparently, smoking is one of the major causes of heartburn, because it:
- Slows the production of saliva, one of your body’s first line of defense against damages to your esophagus.
- Decreases gastric motility or digestion, which means it would take longer for your stomach to empty.
- Stimulates the production of stomach acid that could cause reflux. Consequently, it changes the stomach acids because it promotes the movement of bile salts from your intestine to your stomach, which is more harmful.
- Weakens and relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter.
- Directly injures your esophagus, which makes it more susceptible to heartburn.
You can quit smoking by trying these techniques:
- Set a quit date.
- Remind yourself of the reasons for quitting – and don’t forget to include heartburn as one of them.
- Have a backup plan in case you felt the urge to smoke, such as drinking water, chewing gum or going for a walk.
- Throw away anything that will remind you of cigarettes and smoking.
- Set aside the money you intended to use for buying cigarettes and place it in a jar to remind you of how much you were able to save.
- Do something more worthwhile during your cigarette break.
There may be an available treatment of heartburn, but to make sure these treatment options are effective, address your smoking issues first. There are other causes of heartburn, plus tips on how to prevent this condition from happening, so make sure you keep reading until the end.
12. Hiatal Hernia: A Medical Condition That Can Cause Heartburn
In normal conditions, the pressure from the diaphragm or the large muscle separating your stomach and chest, helps hold the LES valve closed. This is different if you have a hiatal hernia.
Hiatal Hernia Facts You Need to Know
Hiatal hernia is a condition wherein the upper part of your stomach pushes through your diaphragm and into your chest. The opening where the stomach moves through is called hiatus.
There are also two types:
- Sliding – This is the most common type of hiatal hernia. It is when your stomach and esophagus slide in and out of your chest through the hiatus and may not require treatment.
- Fixed – This the less common type of hiatal hernia. It is fixed when part of your stomach pushes through your diaphragm and stays there.
Regardless of the type, heartburn is a symptom of this condition. In fact, it is common for people with hiatal hernia to have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, but this doesn’t mean one causes the other.
13. Stress: A Condition that Could be Causing Your Heartburn
You know that stress could ruin everything – your mood, sex life, disposition, and even the way your body digests food. Believe it or not, stress could also be the reason why you experienced food regurgitation.
According to a 2010 study involving 40,000 Norwegians, researchers found out that those who reported work-related stress have higher risk for GERD symptoms, including heartburn. Another study published in the journal Internal Medicine revealed that nearly half of the more than 12,000 respondents reported stress as the biggest factor that worsened the symptoms of GERD, including heartburn.
Despite these numbers, experts are still unsure whether stress increases the production of stomach acid or it physically creates a worsening in acid. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology claimed that even if more people reported more painful symptoms of acid reflux, there is no showing of any increase in gastric acid.
What’s the bottom line? Stress could worsen heartburn and make you more sensitive to acid exposure; however, experts need further studies to determine whether stress affect the gastric acid in your stomach.
14. Lack of Sleep: Another Factor That Could Lead to Heartburn
Your mother always reminds you to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. You never understood the reason, but now that you are older, you know better. Since you are experiencing heartburn occasionally, you wished you listened to your mother.
It turns out that sleeplessness is another culprit behind heartburn. When you lack in the sleep department, your lower esophageal sphincter tends to relax and function improperly. This also makes it easier for the stomach acids to go back up, hence heartburn.
That’s not all. Lack of sleep, together with stress, causes more acid formation in your stomach. This irritates your LES and encourages the acids to travel upward.
How do you get enough sleep? Try these techniques:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning and at night.
- Establish a sleeping routine to help you relax at night.
- Avoid any form of technology such as television and iPad at least an hour before your scheduled sleep time.
- Keep your room cool and dark.
- Invest in a good mattress and pillows to make your sleep more comfortable.
15. A Weakened Valve: Another Causes of Heartburn Worth Your Attention
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases revealed that about 20 percent of Americans have GERD. This means many people experience heartburn more than twice a week – and could get worse if left untreated.
One of the reasons why this happens is because of weak valve.
A muscular valve is located at the top of your stomach and designed to keep your stomach closed at all times. Weakened valve means stomach acid could go back easily and cause heartburn and other symptoms.
This culprit is more common on older individuals and people with obesity.
The Importance of Keeping a Heartburn Diary
Do you have a habit of keeping a diary or a journal? If not, then now is the right time to consider it, especially if heartburn is becoming an issue.
A heartburn diary or log allows you to do the following:
- Keep track of what you did and ate during the day to identify your triggers.
- Record any experience of heartburn, including the severity of the attack.
- The severity of each episode.
- What you did to experience relief.
By doing this, you can easily see your triggers and make necessary adjustments in your lifestyle to avoid heartburn in the future. Keep track of your eating and lifestyle habits for at least a month. This timeframe is enough to tell what your triggers are.
Tips to Remember to Prevent Heartburn From Paying a Visit
The good news is heartburn is not a serious, alarming condition. In fact, you can get rid of this condition with just a few simple tweaks in your lifestyle. On the other hand, there are ways you can prevent heartburn from paying a visit. Do you want to know what these preventive techniques are?
Aside from few treatment tips you learned above, here are simple heartburn remedies you can try:
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals to avoid putting extra pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter. Five to six small meals are enough.
- Limit, if not avoid eating and drinking acid-stimulating food and drinks.
- Maintain a reasonable weight according to your height and body structure.
- Elevate your head for six to eight inches while you sleep to enable gravity to reduce the pressure on your stomach.
- Avoid eating meals two to three hours before your bedtime.
- If you plan to exercise, do this at least two hours after meal.
- Establish a bedtime routine to help you relax before going to bed.
The reason for your heartburn is different from the 60 million others who experience the same fate as yours. In fact, there are more causes for heartburn, which were not enumerated above.
If you experience heartburn at least twice a week for one month, then don’t hesitate to consult a doctor, understand your condition better, and look for appropriate treatments. You don’t want this condition to get worse, do you?