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Heartburn

Impact of Heartburn on the Digestive System

For people who have heartburn, the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach either opens at the wrong time or is weak and doesn't completely close off the opening to the stomach. When this happens, stomach juices and food particles can flow back up into the esophagus more frequently than normal.
 
If stomach juices stay in the esophagus for long periods of time, or if acid reflux happens often, the natural way the esophagus protects itself from stomach juices may simply be overwhelmed. The lining of the esophagus may become irritated, and this can lead to heartburn.
 

Risk Factors

While they don't necessarily cause the condition, risk factors increase a person's chances for developing heartburn. Just because you have these risk factors does not guarantee that you will have symptoms -- it just makes it more likely. Common risk factors include:
 
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Use of tobacco products
  • Dietary factors
  • Certain medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Use of alcohol
  • Stress
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Pregnancy.
     

Symptoms

The most common symptom is pain or discomfort that starts in the middle of the chest. This sensation can move up through the throat. The pain can be frequent, constant, and/or severe.
 
Heartburn symptoms can be made worse by large meals, lying down, and bending over.
 
The pain experienced with heartburn can often be confused with the pain associated with having a heart attack. (Click Heartburn or Heart Attack? to learn the difference between the two.) Knowing the difference and taking immediate action can save lives.
 
(Click Heartburn Symptoms for more information on this topic.)
 

Heartburn Information

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