The six most common causes of heartburn are obesity, smoking, certain medications, high-fat diets, alcohol consumption, and stress. These factors have been validated by various clinical research studies, emphasizing the importance of lifestyle modifications in managing heartburn symptoms.
Obesity has long been recognized as a significant risk factor for heartburn, largely owing to the increased pressure exerted on the stomach that can lead to acid reflux (Johns Hopkins Medicine). This condition, wherein the contents of the stomach including highly corrosive stomach juices are hurled back into the esophagus, is reportedly more prevalent among individuals who are obese or overweight. The pressure to the stomach is a physiological consequence of obesity, leading to an increased risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is often manifest in frequent heartburn symptoms.
Delving into the research findings, the evidence suggests an undeniable correlation between obesity and the incidence of heartburn symptoms. An extensive study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology involving a sample size of over 10,000 individuals makes these findings difficult to deny. It starkly establishes that being overweight or obese is directly linked to the occurrence and recurrence of heartburn complaints (The American Journal of Gastroenterology).
Turning our attention to the role of smoking in causing heartburn, it's crucial to understand the physiological changes induced by smoking. It has been determined that smoking reduces the effectiveness of the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle that separates the esophagus and the stomach. This muscle is essentially a valve that prevents stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus, thus promoting digestion (American Lung Association). However, persistent cigarette smoking impairs the functioning of this valve, allowing stomach acid to reflex, a condition that leads to the discomfort known as heartburn.
Just as in the case of obesity, research has firmly established a link between smoking and heartburn. A clinical study reported in The American Journal of Gastroenterology looked into the incidence of GERD among smokers versus non-smokers among other factors. The results ascertained that cigarette smoking indeed increases susceptibility to GERD (The American Journal of Gastroenterology). As such, addressing lifestyle factors like smoking could largely aid in managing heartburn symptoms, offering respite to the millions who suffer from this uncomfortable condition.
Several medications have been closely linked to heightened heartburn risks. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), along with specific antidepressants, and certain asthma medications have been prolific contributors to heartburn, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Such medications are guilty of inciting digestive tract disorders, including heartburn, when used persistently or as part of long-term treatment plans. While these medications are undeniably beneficial for managing specific health conditions, they pose challenges to digestive health, hence necessitating the use of alternative medication or supplementary treatments in some patients to lessen the incidence of heartburn.
Highlighting the role of medications in causing heartburn, various studies published in journals like The American Journal of Medicine have provided compelling evidence. Concrete scientific verification of this connection serves as a critical tool for patients and healthcare providers alike in weighing treatment options. Such knowledge could potentially sway the choice of medication in favor of options with lesser risk of heartburn or warrant proactive measures to manage probable symptoms (The American Journal of Medicine).
Khang T. Vuong received his Master of Healthcare Administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. He was named Forbes Healthcare 2021 30 under 30. Vuong spoke at Stanford Medicine X, HIMSS conference, and served as a Fellow at the Bon Secours Health System.