Heartburn May Signal Other Problems
There are various causes of heartburn and various degrees of severity but basically, it all comes down to stomach acid getting into the esophagus and finding a way to stop it. How strong a treatment is needed is determined by the severity of the heartburn.
The stomach uses hydrochloric acid to break down food as part of the body's digestive system. The stomach lining serves as a protective shield against this strong acid; however the esophagus is not designed to deal with it and if even little seeps past the stomach valve, heartburn can occur.
While most people suffer from some form of heartburn occasionally, severe and persistent bouts may be signs of other problems, such as a hiatal hernia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While neither one is usually fatal, they will require attention of a physician.
There is a one-way door connecting the esophagus to the top of the stomach. This allows anything that is swallowed to enter the stomach and to keep anything in the stomach from coming back into the esophagus. This sphincter muscle sometimes loses its ability to stop the stomach acid from refluxing upwards, causing heartburn.
A hiatal hernia is when the muscles working the sphincter have herniated, or in a sense broken, and allows the hydrochloric acid and pepsin to rise back into the esophagus. A dietary and lifestyle change is usually prescribed by your physician until the muscles have a chance to heal and function properly.
Prompt Medical Attention
Persons suffering severe heartburn, who may have GERD, need to have this confirmed by a physician to initiate proper medical treatment. While proton pump inhibitors may help to a certain degree, their use should rarely exceed two weeks unless guided by your doctor. Proton pump inhibitors, the primary course of Prilosec OTC works against frequent heartburn by significantly slowing the production of stomach acid.
Taking any proton pump inhibitor for heartburn in a way not recommended by either your doctor or manufacturer could lead to serious problems and your stomach needs a certain amount of acids to properly digest foods and break down certain bacteria.
If you suffer from what you believe is a sudden onset of heartburn accompanied by shortness of breath, pain in the neck, in the jaw or even in the legs, you should immediately contact a physician. Many symptoms of a heart attack have been confused as heartburn with severe consequences.