The condition is medically known as pyrosisor acid indigestion.
The word "heartburn" is a popular lay term that has nothing to do with the heart.
Heartburn is usually linked to gastric reflux - the regurgitation of gastric acid; one of the main symptoms of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
As heartburn may also be a symptom of ischemic heart disease, it is important that doctors bear this in mind and do not jump to a GERD diagnosis too rapidly.
Some people use the terms "dyspepsia" and heartburn interchangeably. There is a difference: Dyspepsia is a combination of heart burn and epigastric pain, which is from the sternum to just above the umbilicus (navel, belly-button).
It is common for people to have heartburn occasionally, and it is usually nothing to worry about. With some lifestyle changes, and perhaps an OTC medication you can manage the discomfort without having to seek medical help.
If heartburn symptoms are experienced frequently and start affecting a person's daily routine, they should check with a doctor in case it is a sign of something more serious.
Signs and symptoms of heartburn include:
If the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly, gastric acids can seep back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. When a person bends over or lies down the heartburn sensation may be worse, because the lack of gravity encourages more reflux.
A doctor may wish to determine whether the heartburn is a symptom of a wider condition, such as GERD. If so, the following tests may be ordered:
The patient is asked to swallow some food and liquid to determine how well the LOS is functioning. The whole test takes about thirty minutes to complete. Manometry is useful to confirm a diagnosis of GERD, as well as detecting rarer conditions related to the functioning of the LOS, such as achalasia or muscle spasms.
Original article date: 5 June 2004