A risk factor is something that increases your chances
of getting a disease or condition. The same is true with heartburn. Some of the
risk factors for heartburn may be beyond our control, such as another medical
condition. Other factors, such as certain lifestyle habits, can be modified to
help reduce the occurrence of heartburn symptoms.
What increases your risk of suffering from heartburn?
Being overweight (obesity)
While researchers are still studying exactly how obesity increases the risk of
heartburn, they do state that it is biologically possible. Excess body fat
pushes on the stomach, increasing gastric pressure. Also noted in obese patients
are decreased lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure and impaired gastric
emptying. Each of these can contribute to an increase in heartburn occurrence.
You can experience heartburn duing pregnancy because of increased levels of
hormones in your body while pregnant can soften the ligaments that normally keep
the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightly closed. If the LES relaxes at
inappropriate times, food and stomach acids can reflux back up into your
esophagus and throat. Also more pressure is put on your stomach as your body
changes and your baby grows. This, in turn, can force stomach contents through
the LES and into your esophagus.
Smoking stimulates the production of stomach acid. It can also weaken and relax
the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Smoking has also been shown to slow the
production of saliva. Saliva is one of your body's defenses against damage to
the esophagus. Saliva even has acid-neutralizing chemicals called bicarbonates.
Research shows that the saliva of smokers contains smaller amounts of
bicarbonates, thus reducing the ability of the saliva to neutralize the acid.
Saliva also bathes the esophagus and lessens the effects of acid that has
refluxed up from the stomach, and helps wash the acid down to the stomach.
Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid, and relaxes the LES. Alcohol
also makes the esophagus more sensitive to stomach acid. Alcohol can lead to the
development of peptic ulcers and interfere with the healing of ulcers already
Eating certain foods
Some foods can increase the odds of having heartburn. These include:
Citrus fruits (such as oranges)
Tomatoes and tomato-based products (such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, many
Citrus fruit drinks (such as orange and grapefruit)
Having a hiatal hernia
A hiatal hernia can weaken the (LES) and cause reflux.
It can also result in the retention of acid and other stomach contents above the
opening in the diaphragm, where the esophagus connects with the stomach
(hiatus), and can result in this being easily refluxed into the esophagus.
Having a peptic ulcer
A peptic ulcer is a sore or lesion that forms in the
lining of the stomach or duodenum. These ulcers can cause a gnawing or burning
pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and navel. There can also be acid
reflux, the sensation of acid backing up into the throat.
Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is
a disorder in which the stomach takes too long to empty its contents. It often
occurs in people with type I diabetes or type II diabetes. Gastroparesis happens
when nerves to the stomach are damaged or stop working. The vagus nerve controls
the movement of food through the digestive tract. If the vagus nerve is damaged,
the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not work normally, and the movement
of food is slowed or stopped. This delayed stomach emptying can increase gastric
pressure, which can lead to heartburn.