27th May 2024

Heartburn, or acid reflux, develops when stomach acid washes up into your oesophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach), causing a burning sensation in your chest and/or throat. About a third of people have heartburn, and 10% suffer from it every day. Read on to find out what heartburn feels like, what the most common heartburn symptoms are, and what to do if you have heartburn signs.

What does heartburn feel like?

Heartburn feels like it sounds: It causes a sharp burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone or ribs. The burning might feel like it’s coming from your heart, but the fiery feeling is actually in your stomach or oesophagus. The burning sensation can last a few minutes, or it can go on for more than two hours. It’s typically triggered by eating or drinking. It tends to become worse if you lie down or bend over.

“Heartburn can strike any time of day, but many people notice it more at night and when they’re laying down because the contents in the stomach move up,” Shilpi Agarwal, MD, a family medicine physician in the Washington, DC area, tells Health. Anyone can develop heartburn, but it’s most likely to affect asthmatics, pregnant women, and anyone older than 45—especially if you drink, smoke, or are prone to late-evening meals.


Here are the most common signs of heartburn

Burning sensation in your chest and/or throat: That acidic sensation just behind your breastbone is the most well-known heartburn symptom. “Your esophagus is lined with cells that aren’t resistant to gastric acid,” C. Prakash Gyawali, MD, professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and spokesperson of the American Gastroenterological Association, tells Health. “When excessive acid comes in contact with the esophageal lining, chemical sensors are stimulated that trigger the sensation of heartburn.” You may notice this right after a meal, especially if you’ve consumed spicy or acidic food.

Chronic cough: “If you don’t feel sick but are always coughing, it could be due to acid reflux,” says Dr. Agarwal. Many people who have a chronic cough due to heartburn do not have other common heartburn symptoms, so it can be hard to diagnose. If your cough tends to happen after you eat, it may be heartburn-related.

Chest tightness or pain: Some people with heartburn experience chest pains or chest tightness, not simply a burning sensation in the chest. “The first step is to make sure it’s not from cardiac issues,” Dr. Gyawali cautions. “Cardiac disease can be deadly, while esophageal reflux symptoms are mostly an annoyance.” If you have heart issues and heartburn, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

Hoarseness: Developing a raspy voice or losing your voice entirely can be another symptom of heartburn. It happens when harsh stomach acid washes up into your esophagus to your larynx, aka your voice box.

Sore throat: A sore throat is a symptom you might assoicate with a cold or the flu, but it also could be caused by digestive problems like heartburn. This is especially true if it’s a chronic sore throat and you have no other upper respiratory symptoms, like sneezing or a runny nose.

Nausea: Nausea has many causes, but if you experience it right after meals and can’t identify another reason for it, heartburn could be to blame.

Throwing up liquid in your mouth: “When the volume of gastric content refluxing into the esophagus is high enough, a sensation of liquid coming up the chest can be felt,” says Dr. Gyawali. Doctors call this “acid regurgitation.” Basically, you’ll feel like you just threw up a little in your mouth. The liquid may be warm and have a sour, salty, or acidic taste. Some people also feel like they have something “stuck” in their throat or chest.

Teeth problems: When harsh gastric fluids wash up into your mouth often, they can start to erode the enamel on your teeth, Dr. Gyawali says. Your dentist may notice a problem before you do

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