Currently it is estimated that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the adult population suffers from chronic heartburn. Although moderate heartburn can be relieved quite effectively through changes to lifestyle and diet, and through the use of over the counter antacids, those suffering with chronic conditions are special cases and are more difficult to treat. (Learn how to cure chronic heartburn)
The reasons for this are many, but chief among them is that chronic heartburn may be an indication of the presence of a more serious condition, such as GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), Esophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus), Hiatal Hernia (part of the stomach sticking up into the chest) or Barrett’s Syndrome (an abnormal change in the cells of the oesophagus). In some extreme cases, chronic heartburn may indicate the presence of cancer of the oesophagus.
Heartburn happens as a result of stomach acid or gastric juice exiting the stomach and coming into contact with the oesophagus. This leads to a sensation of burning and pain in the chest area, which is commonly known as heartburn, (but which has no connection with the heart.)
This experience of heartburn is very common and most people with at some time suffer the sensation. However, if it is something that is affecting you on a much more frequent basis, perhaps every other day, this would indicate that you may be suffering from chronic heartburn and may indicate the presence of a more serious condition.
Factors influencing chronic heartburn
A variety of factors may contribute to chronic heartburn. Gender is one of those, as women are more likely to suffer from the condition than men. One theory is that the LES, or Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (which acts as a valve, preventing stomach acid from entering the oesophagus) may function incorrectly more often in women, which leads to gastric juices escaping more easily from the stomach, and flowing into the oesophagus. There are some foods which may cause the sphincter to relax, such as chocolates, alcohol, coffee, fried foods, and citrus foods such as oranges or pineapples.
Pregnant women have an even higher chance of suffering from chronic heartburn, due to the increased pressure on the stomach which pushes up the stomach acid. You can read more about heartburn and pregnancy here.
Chronic heartburn is often linked to obesity, which is on the rise. Very simply put, as with heartburn in pregnant women, it is the increased pressure exerted on the stomach by the weight of the belly, that forces stomach acid up and into the oesophagus. Obviously, losing weight is the key element in tackling this problem.
Racial and genetic factors are also worth considering. Studies have shown that Caucasians and Hispanics are more susceptible to developing chronic heartburn. The reasons for this are not understood and genetic research is underway to determine why this is so.
Severe heartburn is something that should not be ignored and if you are suffing with it, you should address the situation as soon as possible. Over the counter antacids may provide some relief (although it’s unlikely), but are useless if you are suffering from a more serious condition such as GERD, which can lead to bleeding and scarring in the oesophagus. Gerd can also make swallowing more difficult.
Your doctor may recommend a variety of different medications to treat your heartburn. However, if you are suffering from Hiatal Hernia, it is likely that this will require surgery. Hiatal Hernia happens when the stomach protrudes through the hiatus, which is a gap in the diaphragm. There are natural methods to relieve chronic heartburn, and important among them are changes to your lifestyle. These include weight loss, avoiding spicy foods, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and the adaptation of eating patterns to a routine of smaller, more frequent portions/meals.
It’s important to remember that chronic heartburn may indicate a serious underlying condition and if you are suffering regular bouts of it, it is time to consult your doctor.
Learn more about how to relieve severe heartburn