Heartburn explained – what’s happening in your body?

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is research based and some of the views and findings do not conform with the CSN Diet.

Do you find yourself buying antacids every time you go to the store? Are there certain types of food you avoid because you know that soon after eating, you will suffer?

Anyone who has ever suffered from heartburn understands this special kind of discomfort. What exactly is heartburn and when should you worry about it?

Heartburn explained – what’s happening in your body?

what causes heart burn

WebMD gives a detailed explanation of how heartburn occurs in the body. It all starts as soon as you take that first bite.

When you start eating, acids go to your stomach, with the purpose of breaking down the food.

You take a bite, and then swallow, sending the food down your oesophagus towards your stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter, which is a valve-like ring of muscle, opens up to let the food into the stomach.

Now it closes up again to keep the contents of the stomach inside the stomach. Or rather, it’s supposed to. Sometimes, the sphincter doesn’t do its job.

Now this acid rises back into the oesophagus, causing the distinct burning sensation in your chest and throat. This can happen without actually causing heartburn, but in other cases you will feel it.

The acid reflux that causes heartburn, can also be responsible for symptoms like coughing, a sour taste in your mouth, bloating and generally feeling unwell. So why does it happen?

What causes heartburn?

Science has not yet figured out exactly why the esophageal sphincter sometimes weakens or stops functioning. There are, however, a few factors that increase your chances of suffering from heartburn:

  • When the upper part of your stomach penetrates through the diaphragm, usually because of weakness or a tear, you develop a hiatal hernia, which can give you heartburn.
  • Pregnant women often suffer from heartburn.
  • Smoking is likely to increase your chances of developing heartburn. A study in 2018 showed that quitting smoking makes you three times more likely to experience major relief from heartburn.
  • Obesity is a considerable risk factor. 
  • Certain types of medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, sedatives and blood pressure medications can increase your heartburn risk.
Food that cause heartburn
If you battle with heartburn, you will know that the condition is triggered by certain foods. It will be a good idea for you to stay away from anything fatty, acidic or highly caffeinated.

These are the worst foods for someone prone to heartburn:

Coffee and tea (but you can enjoy decaffeinated versions).
Carbonated drinks. The bubbles expand in your stomach, leading to more pressure and discomfort.
Chocolate. Unfortunately it contains both fat and caffeine, as well as another heartburn trigger, cocoa.Peppermint.
Citrus such as orange and grapefruit – these are acidic.
Tomatoes and tomato products such as marinara sauce are also highly acidic.
Alcohol gives you heartburn since it relaxes the sphincter valve, and to add to that, it also stimulates acid production in the stomach.
Fried foods and late-night snacks. 

Ways to manage your heartburn

Like many of the health problems we experience, heartburn is often the result of poor lifestyle choices. Don’t beat yourself up about it, most of us enjoy a drink and fatty takeaways at times.

If heartburn is affecting your life, or you simply had enough, a few lifestyle changes could bring relief. Try the following:

  • Instead of two or three large meals a day, try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Avoid food that you know will give you heartburn.
  • Raise one end of your bed by putting something under your mattress. The goal is to sleep with your head and chest higher than your waist, to prevent stomach acid from travelling upwards.
  • Try to lose weight if you need to. The most weight-loss success comes from a lifestyle change that favours healthy food, rather than starving yourself.
  • Refrain from wearing clothes that are tight around your waist.
  • Do not eat three to four hours before bed.
  • Speak to your doctor if you find that your medication triggers heartburn.
  • Cut down on smoking and alcohol.
  • Make use of over-the-counter antacids.

Heartburn is not always an indication of a bigger problem, but do keep an eye on it. If the above lifestyle changes as well as pharmacy medicines do not help, it’s time to visit the GP.

More indications that you need your health checked are symptoms like food getting stuck in your throat or weight loss for no apparent reason.

Heartburn or heart attack?
Few things can bring on sheer terror quite the way a sharp pain in the chest can. The chest is where the heart is, and we need the heart to be well.
Chest pain can have many causes – indigestion, anxiety, or indeed a problem with your heart, to name a few. 

So how are you supposed to know if you should rush to hospital, or if it’s just your lunch coming back to haunt you? 

It can be difficult to tell, and it’s not unheard of for patients to ignore heart attack symptoms, thinking it’s just indigestion.

If you experience shortness of breath or sweating along with your chest pain, this can be an indication that there’s a heart-related problem.

Other heart attack symptoms include:
Discomfort in the chest that feels like squeezing, fullness or pressure.
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your stomach, neck, jaw or back.
However, if you are worried, get yourself checked out. This is one time when ‘better be safe than sorry’ makes a whole lot of sense.

How do antacids work?

It’s a pretty good feeling when you take an antacid and you can feel it soothe away the burn. What exactly is happening here?

Very simple science is at play in this instance. Antacids work by neutralising the stomach acid. This happens because the chemicals in antacids are alkalis, in simple terms, the opposite of acids.

Neutralisation happens when a chemical reaction occurs between an acid and an alkali. This makes the stomach contents less corrosive and therefore relieves your symptoms.

Bottom line

So often in life we develop health problems because of our own poor choices. Unfortunately science is yet to explain to us why these poor decisions are so very tempting.

In the meantime, we might as well take care of ourselves, as it does come with the reward of feeling good. Go ahead, have some broccoli. Your body will thank you.



Hi, my name is Karien Nel and today I’m 37kg lighter than the day I started my weight loss journey with CSN Diet.

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