Contrary to what its name suggests, the condition called "heartburn" is not a problem with the heart, but a problem with the digestive system of the body. It is just that the pain experienced in heartburn occurs so close to our usual notion of the heart's position, so much so that the source of the pain has often been misconstrued to be the heart itself.
Heartburn is that uncomfortable, almost burning sensation often felt behind the breastbone, even climbing up to the level of the throat, after a substantial meal is taken beyond satiety. The condition may also be caused by other factors but overeating remains the most prevalent cause. The pain usually worsens when the sufferer lies down or bends over. This may distinguish it from pain originating from the heart, which, on the other hand, may persist with the same intensity regardless of position. The person may also begin belching, and a sour to bitter taste may accompany each belch. Sometimes, breathing becomes noisy and high-pitched, as the airway of a person suffering heartburn may constrict as a reaction to the noxious acidic juices going up the throat. In worse cases, airway constriction may cause a choking sensation. It goes without saying that should this be observed, immediate medical help must be sought.
Heartburn is caused by acidic digestive juices from the stomach overflowing or going back into the muscular tube through which food passes into the stomach from the mouth, called the esophagus. Aside from eating beyond satiety, eating hurriedly and not chewing food properly can also cause heartburn. Food with high fat content especially predisposes to heartburn, as well as spicy food, chocolates, alcoholic drinks, coffee and tea. Certain medicines may also cause heartburn. A person eating in a stressed state may also experience heartburn. Eating with tight pants and belts, or lifting weights or squatting after eating also cause heartburn. Pregnant women are especially predisposed to heartburn largely because the growing baby in the womb may push up the stomach, and subsequently its contents, out into the esophagus, whenever the mother takes a meal, even one of usual amount.
Because the esophagus is not intended to be in contact with such acidic juices, as compared to the stomach which is, the esophagus sends out signals of pain to the brain upon contact with these juices. Sometimes, the pain is so intense that it can be mistaken to be the pain associated with a heart attack. In such cases where the pain is severe, it is advisable to assume the worst and immediately seek medical help. Sometimes a heart burn can be a symptom of a heart attack.
To prevent heartburn obviously means avoiding the things that cause it, or predispose one to it. A lot of the preventive measures are thus behavioral, like improving eating habits and avoiding fatty and spicy food, chocolates, alcohol, coffee and tea. Weight reduction also prevents heartburn, in that clothes tend to be less tight around the abdomen in slim people, aside from the fact that obese people necessarily tend to indulge more on the food and drinks which lead to heartburn. Eating should be done in a relaxed manner, and stresses should, for the time being, neglected while eating. Lying down, bending over, squatting, or lifting heavy objects after eating must also be discouraged.