Simple Heartburn, or Is It?

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8/30/2008

After a meal people may experience a burning sensation in the chest. Most likely this is what most of us know as heartburn. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest caused by the reflux of stomach content into the esophagus. Mild symptoms associated with heartburn may include belching and a bitter or acid-like taste in your mouth.

If you are experiencing only occasional, mild heartburn, you may obtain relief with over-the-counter medications which include:

  • Antacids. There are a number of brands, but the most common are Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids or Tums. These medications neutralize the stomach acid and provide quick relief.
  • H-2-receptor blockers. These medications include such brand names as Tagamet, Pepcid, and Zantac, and act by simply reducing the production of acid in the stomach. They don’t act as quickly as antacids, usually taking 30 minutes, and they can cause side effects, including dizziness, diarrhea, headaches and kidney problems. In rare instances they can also react dangerously with other medications. If you are taking prescription medications, then you should contact your pharmacist or doctor to be sure it is safe to try these over-the-counter medications.
  • Proton pump inhibitors. Prilosec is the brand name that is available over-the-counter, and it blocks the production of acid by the stomach.

When episodes of heartburn become a recurring condition, then it may represent a more serious health issue. Rather than trying to self-treat chronic heartburn with the above over-the-counter medications, you should seek your doctor’s advice if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Heartburn several times a week.
  • Heartburn that returns soon after your antacid wears off.
  • Heartburn that wakes you up at night.

Sometimes it can be difficult to even impossible to tell whether the chest pain you may think is heartburn may be caused by your heart. Call your doctor or seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • A feeling of pressure, tightening, squeezing or crushing pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
  • Pain radiating into the jaw, shoulders or arms, especially the left shoulder or arm.
  • Chest discomfort accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness or nausea.