Heartburn is just a symptom

Heartburn.

Also known as pain in the chest, burning in the throat, pressure in the chest, mucous sliding in the throat…it has many ways of presenting itself.

Heartburn is not normal however.

Heartburn is a symptom of a larger issue. Several times a week I have a patient who has been simply experiencing heartburn for years. Years! This breaks my heart. For years, their gastrointestinal mucosa and stomach lining have been “voicing their displeasure” but no one is listening. Or, someone is listening, but does not know what it means.

Most people have sought help and soothe their gastric mucosa with proton-​pump inhibitors, reducing the production of hydrochloric acid from the stomach, which can reduce their heartburn. Often, this does improve their symptoms, but not completely. The same is also true with the use of natural supports like peppermint or ginger that can be used to soothe the gastric mucosa. Until we get to the bottom of what might be initiating the heartburn, these are viable options that do improve our quality of life.

What is causing the heartburn is an entirely different challenge.

Multiple causes of heartburn include:

  1. Helicobacter pylori — a microorganism that frequently likes to burrow itself into the stomach lining and disrupt proper acid production, often associated with the production of gastric ulcers, but in some research studies demonstrating protective against gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Difficult to eradicate without antibiotics, and an important contributor to heartburn symptoms.
  2. Ulcers — Duodenal and gastric ulcers can increase acid production, and are often best ruled out with an endoscopy, a scope into the stomach to see if there are holes in the stomach or even the H. pylori as discussed above.
  3. Relaxed esophageal sphincter — There is a band of muscle between our esophagus (the tube that carries food to our stomach) and the stomach called a sphincter, and this opens and closes when food needs to enter the stomach, and closes when the stomach is full for digestion to stay within the stomach. Certain foods (caffeine, alcohol), and even lying down horizontally after eating can relax this sphincter, and cause acid to come out of the stomach.
  4. Celiac disease — An autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own cells that produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach (parietal cells), decreasing the production of B12 and increasing symptoms of GERD. When patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease were put on a gluten-​free diet, a significant improvement in GERD symptoms was noticed and is consistenly noticed in the before and after with previously undiagnosed celiac patients.

Talk to your MD, ND, and gastroenterologist about the possible causes of heartburn and acid reflux in your body. Your happiness depends on it!

References

Enomoto S, Oka M, Ohata H, Mukoubayashi C, Watanabe M, Moribata K, Muraki Y, Shingaki N, Deguchi H, Ueda K, Inoue I, Maekita T, Iguchi M, Yanaoka K, Tamai H, Fujishiro M, Mohara O, Ichinose M. Assessment of gastroesophageal reflux disease by serodiagnosis of Helicobacter pylori-​related chronic gastritis stage.World J Gastrointest Endosc. 2011 Apr 16;3(4):71 – 7.

Nachman F, Vázquez H, González A, Andrenacci P, Compagni L, Reyes H, Sugai E, Moreno ML, Smecuol E, Hwang HJ, Sánchez IP, Mauriño E, Bai JC. Gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in patients with celiac disease and the effects of a gluten-​free diet. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2011 Mar;9(3):214 – 9. Epub 2010 Jun 30

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