How heartburn develops
Anyone who has to fight heartburn might also complain about a feeling of fullness, stomach ache and acid regurgitation, and especially about a burning pain or rather a pressing feeling behind the breastbone. Burping and swallowing difficulties might also present themselves. Depending on the severity, heartburn may be mild or very painful, even radiating to the throat. As a result of the reflux of gastric contents, an acidic taste sometimes spreads in the mouth, which can also be described as salty or soapy. This can lead to bad breath. Heartburn can also be associated with nausea and vomiting. The symptoms may also manifest outside the digestive tract. Furthermore, heartburn can be associated with irritable cough, hoarseness and asthma.
Among other factors, gastric juice plays an important role in heartburn. It consists, among others, of hydrochloric acid and some digestive enzymes. After food is broken down by the teeth, the gastric juice begins to digest the food further and kill off germs or pathogens. Heartburn, the well-known "burning fire" in the oesophagus, occurs when gastric acid gets back into the gullet and irritates the mucous membranes. So, the main cause of heartburn is not necessarily too much acid, but acid in the wrong place or hypersensitive oesophageal nerves. The latter may also explain why reflux leads to unpleasant symptoms in some people while others don't even notice gastric juice flowing back into the gullet.
In general, reflux episodes are not unusual and can occur to anyone from time to time. This "normal" reflux, also called physiological reflux occurs to everybody every day and is usually harmless. In contrast, there is the “pathological” reflux, which has organic causes and can even damage organs.
Responsible for too many reflux episodes or too much gastric juice reflowing into the oesophagus, is, in most cases, the oesophageal sphincter, the closure between the oesophagus and the stomach. Normally, the sphincter muscle works like a valve and prevents uncontrolled backflow of gastric contents into the oesophagus. As a result, the digestion proceeds undisturbed, without excessively affecting the preceding, sensitive oesophagus. However, if the muscle does not close properly or opens too often during the digestive process, gastric acid and chyme can return too often, in greater quantity or too far back into the oesophagus. Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the consequence.
In particular, when other gastrointestinal complaints join, it could be possible that the movement processes or sensitivity of nerves in the gastrointestinal tract are disturbed. This is often what happens if you suffer from a functional disorder like IBS or irritable stomach.
Accompanying symptoms of heartburn may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach pain
- Feeling of fullness
- Stomach pressure