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Heartburn is a common problem that affects millions of people. In fact, 10% of Americans experience the symptoms of heartburn at least once a week. It can be caused by a number of factors including food, stress, and certain medications. In most cases, it is mild, but sometimes it can lead to more severe problems. In some instances, it may also be a sign of a more serious medical condition.Also known as acid indigestion, heartburn is a sensation of burning that occurs in the chest. In some cases, the burning sensation may rise up in the throat. It usually occurs when gastric acids are regurgitated. Gastric reflux is common on its own, but it could also be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. In some cases, however, it may also be a sign of heart disease. As a result, a proper diagnosis is important in cases of chronic heartburn.

Diagnosing Heartburn

When diagnosing heartburn and its cause, doctors may use a variety of tests. GERD can typically be diagnosed based on symptoms including a distinct burning sensation that typically occurs shortly after a meal and at night. Worsening pain when the patient bends over or lies down is also a telltale sign of GERD. To rule out cardiac conditions, many doctors choose to perform additional tests. One of the most common includes the GI cocktail. In this test, the patient is given a mixture of antacid and lidocaine. If the symptoms begin to subside within five to ten minutes, the probability of a cardiac cause is greatly decreased. In some cases, other methods such as endoscopy may be used to closely examine the stomach and esophagus. If cancer or other serious problems are suspected, a biopsy may be taken.

Treating Heartburn

For most patients, treating heartburn simply requires a prescription or over-the-counter antacids. These products are designed to reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces and are often effective methods of reducing gastric reflux. In an infection is present, patients may also be prescribed antibiotics. When heartburn is caused by cardiac problems or other underlying conditions, additional testing and further treatment by a specialist is usually required.


The prognosis for heartburn itself is generally good. For most patients, it can be managed through medication and does not cause any serious complications. When left untreated for extended periods of time or the exact cause is misdiagnosed, further complications may arise. Over time, acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus and stomach lining that can lead to infections. When heartburn presents as a symptom of heart disease, the prognosis depends on the exact type of disease. As a result, it is important to see a doctor for persistent heartburn that does not respond well to over-the-counter treatments.