Everyday Causes of Heartburn

A burning sensation in the chest, located behind the breastbone, is more than likely heartburn. The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that 10 percent of Americans experience heartburn (pyrosis) every day, and 44 percent have at least one incident a month. While occasional heartburn is common, frequent occurrences that affect your daily routine may be a sign of something serious, requiring physician intervention, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Diet

Diet is a common cause of heartburn. Consuming products with caffeine such as coffee and chocolate increases the risk of flaring up heartburn. Fried and fatty foods can also exacerbate symptoms, along with acidic foods like tomatoes and ketchup. The Mayo Clinic says that alcohol may also trigger heartburn.

Body Abnormality

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus that relaxes to allow foods to flow into the stomach after swallowing. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the inability of the sphincter to close tightly. A known cause of the sphincter not working properly is a hiatal hernia, commonly found in the elderly. Treatments for GERD include medications to reduce gastric secretions into the esophagus.

Weight Gain

Obesity and pregnancy may also contribute to symptoms of heartburn. Increased abdominal pressure due to stomach compression promotes the flow of stomach contents backward into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation behind the breastbone. Heartburn during pregnancy generally subsides after delivery of the baby. Maintaining a healthy weight may help to relieve heartburn symptoms significantly.

Diabetes

A delay in digestion contributes to heartburn symptoms. Diabetics often develop a condition called gastroparesis, which is a disease that damages nerves that assist in the emptying of gastric (stomach) contents, according to the Mayo Clinic. When food content lies in the stomach for an extended period, the stomach produces an increased amount of acid, which in turn can result in reflux. Controlling glucose levels may be a treatment for heartburn.

Medications

Some medications can cause heartburn, according to the Mayo Clinic. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen and ibuprofen can cause heartburn. Postmenopausal hormones and oral contraceptives containing progesterone may also increase the risk for heartburn. Additional drugs like alendronate (Fosamax), used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, and corticosteroids are also known offenders. Some drugs, such as antidepressants, tranquilizers and calcium-channel blockers, stimulate reflux by relaxing the LES. Theophylline, a drug used to treat asthma, may initiate reflux.

About this Author

Annie McElfresh is a nurse by trade and an avid writer by night. Her background includes 10 years of experience in pain management, operating room, home health, and medical office management. She has completed two full-length novels, contributes to two blogs, and is a member of several writing forums.