Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the center of your chest that often occurs after you eat, bend over, exercise, and sometimes at night when you are lying down. Approximately 1 in 10 adults has heartburn at least once a week and 1 in 3 monthly. Some pregnant women experience heartburn almost daily as a result of increased pressure on the abdomen and hormonal changes.
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Heartburn symptoms indicate a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This fact sheet offers some tips on how to relieve heartburn caused by this condition.
What is GERD?
When you swallow, food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. The muscle remains tightly closed except when you swallow food.
When this muscle fails to close, the acid-containing contents of the stomach can travel back up into the esophagus. This backward movement is called reflux. When stomach acid enters the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce a burning sensation, commonly referred to as heartburn.
Several factors might explain why this reflux action occurs and might offer some clues for relief. The most important are:
- The position of your body after eating. (An upright posture helps prevent reflux.)
- The size of the meal. (Smaller meals reduce reflux.)
- The nature of foods you consume. (Certain substances that irritate the esophagus or weaken the sphincter can cause reflux.)