Digestive System Home > Causes of Heartburn
Doctors and research scientists do not know the specific cause or causes of heartburn. However, researchers have identified certain factors that do increase your chances of developing it. These risk factors include pregnancy, hiatal hernia, and stress.
An Overview of Heartburn Causes
Heartburn is a symptom that occurs when stomach acid "refluxes" back into the esophagus, causing irritation to the esophagus. Doctors and research scientists do not know the specific cause or causes of heartburn.
For people who have heartburn, it appears that the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach (known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) 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, causing heartburn.
Know the Heartburn Risk FactorsWhile the exact causes remain unknown, researchers have identified certain factors that increase the risk for the condition. These risk factors do not cause the condition; they simply increase a person's chances for developing it. Just because you have these heartburn risk factors does not "guarantee" that you will have heartburn, but it makes it more likely. Common heartburn risk factors include:
- Hiatal hernia
- Use of tobacco products
- Dietary factors
- Certain medications
- Certain medical conditions
- Use of alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
Your esophagus passes through an opening in your diaphragm called the hiatus, which helps close off the lower esophageal sphincter. A hiatal hernia develops when a small part of your stomach and the sphincter poke up through the hiatus into your chest. This can cause the sphincter to become weak and less able to block acid reflux.
While hiatal hernias can happen in people of all ages, they are more common in people over the age of 50. While most people who have hiatal hernias don't have any problems, a hiatal hernia can make you more likely to develop heartburn.