Health Watch - Heartburn: That Burning Feeling

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


If you feel a burning sensation in your chest after a heavy meal, you probably have heartburn. This week on Health Watch, we’ll talk about heartburn: what it is, what you can do about it and when it could be something more serious.

Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach flows into the esophagus, something called reflux. The valve from the stomach to the esophagus is supposed to work only one way, allowing food in but preventing anything from going the other way. But if the valve is leaky it can allow acid back into the esophagus. That causes a burning sensation rolling up into the chest. A leaky stomach valve can lead to a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease. Generally, what you eat is what causes the problem.

Dr. Stuart Spechler, a digestive specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says fatty foods keep the stomach from emptying well, which means more material in the stomach that can reflux. Fat also further weakens the leaky stomach valve.

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February 2011


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