If you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt heartburn at least once in your life—whether you’ve realized it or not. You know, it’s that burning feeling in your chest after you endure the wrath of a night of heavy drinking or inhale a late-night burrito. Ahhh, yes.
While you may know some of the foods and eating habits that trigger heartburn, do you know what’s *actually* causing it?
“When someone feels heartburn, what’s usually happening is acid is coming up from their stomach and flowing backward up into the esophagus,” says Roshini Raj, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health. “This causes irritation or burning to the lining of the esophagus, so they feel a burning in their chest area right behind their breast bone.”
Mild heartburn may seem like it’s no biggie, since often times you can just treat your acid reflux by popping an over-the-counter antacid, like Tums. But if you’re feeling heartburn on the regular, it’s a very different story.
“I think heartburn is so common that people assume that it’s a normal part of life,” says Dr. Raj. “The truth is, it’s not. You shouldn’t be experiencing heartburn frequently. It could be a sign of something more serious.”
People who have frequent heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms (at least two to three times a week) may have what’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This frequent acid reflux can cause other bothersome symptoms too, like nausea, bad breath, and trouble swallowing. Learn more about the difference between heartburn and GERD.
The consequences of untreated acid reflux don’t stop there. “In some cases, acid reflux can go onto more serious conditions, like narrowing of the esophagus or even esophageal cancer,” says Dr. Raj. “So you don’t want to just accept this as part of your life, you want to make sure that you’re getting the correct diagnosis, evaluation, and the correct treatment.”