Heartburn is the burning sensation felt in the lower chest, which may also be associated with a sour / bitter taste or the taste of what was recently ingested, in the mouth. Typically, the feeling lasts minutes to hours, however, depending on the cause, this uncomfortable sensation might be symptomatic of other, more critical physiological issues.

What causes heartburn?

When one eats or drinks, the food or liquid travels from the mouth down a tube called the esophagus, past the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to the stomach. The LES is a region of the lower esophagus that acts as a gateway between the esophagus and the stomach. When working normally, it allows foods and liquids to enter the stomach, while preventing stomach contents from entering the esophagus. However, when the LES does not close fully, stomach contents might enter the esophagus (known as acid reflux or reflux) causing irritation and the burning sensation known as heartburn.

One major cause of heartburn is a hiatal hernia (also know as a hiatus hernia). Normally, the diaphragm separates the chest area (i.e. heart, lungs and esophagus) from the abdomen (i.e. stomach and intestines). Weakness in the diaphragm causes a separation of the muscle. This causes a portion of the stomach to enter the chest cavity which results in reflux.

Unfortunately, medications prescribed to treat heartburn may decrease symptoms of heartburn, however, the reflux may still be occurring. This may result in other issues such as:

If the heartburn symptoms are persistent or recur despite the use of antacids or lifestyle changes, contact the Heartburn Center of California to make an appointment to see a specialist.