Why is It Called Heartburn?

Heartburn. We have all probably experienced it at least once. It is that burning sensation that usually begins to build in the upper abdomen, behind the breastbone, and makes your chest feel like it's on fire. That burning feeling and chest pain may travel from your diaphragm all the way to your throat and may be accompanied with a sour taste and the sensation of food re-entering your mouth. The burning sensation heartburn can cause occurs when stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus, causing irritation.

But why is it called HEART-burn?

It may sound strange to call this uncomfortable symptom heartburn when it doesn't have anything to do with the heart. The explanation for the name clarifies this. Heartburn is often felt as a burning sensation in the middle of the lower to the middle part of the chest. Thus, it is called heartburn because it feels like something in the vicinity of the heart is burning.

Heartburn is a symptom of a disorder, not a health condition itself. Heartburn can be caused by a number of factors but is most commonly associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Other causes include:

  • Certain foods, such as fried and fatty foods, peppermint, coffee, and alcohol can weaken or relax the LES.

    Is Heartburn Serious?

    People who suffer from mild heartburn may consider it more of a nuisance than a condition that can cause any serious complications. But for those who suffer from chronic heartburn, episodes occurring from several times a week to several times a day, if it's left untreated can lead to severe complications.

    For people who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), heartburn can be chronic, and severe. This can cause scarring of the esophagus, which narrows the esophagus and makes it difficult to swallow. It can also lead to Barrett's esophagus, a condition where cells similar to those of the stomach lining develop in the lower esophagus. This severe damage to the esophagus increases your risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

    Managing Your Heartburn

    You can find relief from your heartburn with a few self-care remedies. This involves making a few lifestyle and diet changes.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    • Eat frequent smaller meals instead of three larger ones.
      This will help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
    • Eat slowly.
      One way to help you slow down while eating is to put your fork or spoon down between bites.
    • Don't go to bed with a full stomach.
      Stay up at least three hours after eating your last meal or large snack before going to bed. This gives acid levels a chance to decrease before your body is in a position where heartburn is more likely to occur.
    • Raise the head of your bed several inches.
      With your head elevated, it will help prevent reflux during the night.
    • Avoid your heartburn triggers.
      Examples of foods and beverages that can trigger heartburn are coffee (including decaf), alcohol, fatty foods, caffeinated beverages and foods, onions, peppermint, chocolate, citrus fruits or juices, tomatoes. If you aren't sure what your heartburn triggers are, keep a food diary for a week or two.
    • Stop smoking.
      Nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach and prevents the acid-containing contents of the stomach from entering the esophagus.
    • Wear looser-fitting clothes.
      Tight clothing squeezes the midsection and tends to push stomach contents upward.
    • Lose weight.
      If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve your symptoms.
    • Chew gum.
      Chewing gum can provide short-term heartburn relief by stimulating the production of saliva, which dilutes and flushes out stomach acid.
    • Drink warm liquids.
      Drinking a glass of lukewarm water or herbal tea after a meal can dilute and flush out stomach acid.


      "Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

      "Is it just a little HEARTBURN or something more serious?." American College of Gastroenterology.

      "Heartburn and GERD FAQ." American College of Gastroenterology.