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Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest, just behind your breastbone. Technically called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn occurs when stomach contents back up into your esophagus. Sour taste and the sensation of food coming back into your mouth may accompany the sensation. Heartburn usually happens after you've eaten a meal, and it may occur at night. The pain usually worsens when you're lying down or bending over.
Why does food back up into your esophagus? Normally, a strong band of muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) closes off the bottom of the esophagus and opens to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then it closes again. If the muscle relaxes abnormally or becomes weakened, stomach contents can wash back up (reflux), irritating the esophagus.
Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people manage the discomfort on their own. More frequent heartburn that interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of something more serious that requires assistance from your doctor.
To avoid or minimize the effects of heartburn, you should:
Know when to see a health care provider
Seek immediate help if you experience severe chest pain or pressure, especially when combined with other signs and symptoms such as pain in the arm or jaw, or difficulty breathing. Chest pain may be a symptom of a heart attack. Make an appointment with your doctor if:
Read more about self-management for heartburn.
This article is written by Mayo Clinic staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.
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