Digestive Health

“If you are what you eat, who are you?”

What is heartburn?


Heartburn (pyrosis) is a burning sensation felt in the chest – a result of stomach acid flowing back up into the tube that carries food and fluids from the mouth to the stomach (oesophagus).

It occurs when the lower oesophageal sphincter (the band of muscle around the bottom of the oesophagus) doesn’t function properly or becomes weakened, and is often accompanied by a bitter or sour taste in the throat or mouth.

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart.

The following medical and lifestyle factors can make heartburn worse, or contribute to it: smoking, taking certain medications (e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), eating large meals, lying down after eating, being overweight, being pregnant, eating spicy foods, citrus products, tomato products, fried foods or peppermint, and/or drinking alcohol, fizzy drinks and coffee.

Occasional heartburn is common and harmless, and can easily be managed with over-the-counter medication or by making better lifestyle choices.

However, if you experience frequent heartburn that interferes with day-to-day activities, you may have a more serious medical condition such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

If your heartburn makes it difficult for you to swallow or breathe, causing you to feel dizzy, or causes pain in areas other than your chest, it’s important to see a doctor.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)


– Burke, Darla. Krucik, George. MD, MBA. What causes heartburn? 21 possible conditions. Healthline. Last reviewed: 18 July 2012. [Online] Available at: http://www.healthline.com/symptom/heartburn. Accessed: 12 August 2015

– What is heartburn? Health24. Last updated: 7 July 2014. [Online] Available at: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Heartburn/Overview/What-is-heartburn-20140625. Accessed: 11 August 2015

– MacGill, Markus. Medical News Today. What Is Heartburn? What Causes Heartburn? Last updated: 17 June 2015. [Online] Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9151.php. Accessed: 12 August 2015

– Mayo Clinic Staff. Diseases and Conditions: Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Last updated: 7 August 2014. [Online] Available at:  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/basics/definition/con-20019545. Accessed: 12 August 2015

– Pauw, Ilse. Relieving heartburn. Health24. Last updated: 8 July 2014. [Online] Available at: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Heartburn/About-heartburn/Relieving-heartburn-20120721. Accessed: 13 August 2015

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