Heartburn
Other namesPyrosis,[1] cardialgia
SpecialtyGastroenterology, family medicine, emergency medicine
SymptomsBurning, stabbing, or squeezing sensation in the chest, nausea, belching
CausesGastroesophageal reflux disease
Risk factorsSmoking, obesity,
Diagnostic methodPhysical examination, medical history, antacid response, imaging, manometry,
Differential diagnosisChest Pain, heart attack, gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, esophageal spasms, esophageal strictures, duodenitis, cancer, Crohn's Disease
PreventionAvoid foods that are high in fats, spicy, high in artificial flavors. Avoid reclining 3-4 hours after a meal, heavy NSAID use, heavy alcohol consumption, decrease peppermint consumption. Chew foods thoroughly between bites, consume meals with plenty of liquid, and ensure adequate time to eat meals in a non-hurried fashion
TreatmentAntacids, weight loss, surgery
MedicationAntacids

Heartburn, also known as pyrosis, cardialgia or acid indigestion,[2] is a burning sensation in the central chest or upper central abdomen.[3][4][5] Heartburn is usually due to regurgitation of gastric acid (gastric reflux) into the esophagus. It is the major symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).[6]

Other common descriptors for heartburn (besides burning) are belching, nausea, squeezing, stabbing, or a sensation of pressure on the chest. The pain often rises in the chest (directly behind the breastbone) and may radiate to the neck, throat, or angle of the arm. Because the chest houses other important organs besides the esophagus (including the heart and lungs), it is important to remember that not all symptoms related to heartburn are esophageal in nature.

The cause will vary depending on one's family and medical history, genetics, if a woman is pregnant or lactating, and age. As a result, the diagnosis will vary depending on the suspected organ and the inciting disease process. Work-up will vary depending on the clinical suspicion of the provider seeing the patient, but generally includes endoscopy and a trial of antacids to assess for relief.

Definition

The term indigestion includes heartburn along with a number of other symptoms.[7] Indigestion is sometimes defined as a combination of epigastric pain and heartburn.[8] Heartburn is commonly used interchangeably with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) rather than just to describe a symptom of burning in one's chest.[9]

Differential diagnosis

Heartburn-like symptoms and/or lower chest or upper abdomen may be indicative of much more sinister and/or deadly disease.[10] Of greatest concern is to confuse heartburn (generally related to the esophagus) with a heart attack as these organs share a common nerve supply.[11] Numerous abdominal and thoracic organs are present in that region of the body. Many different organ systems might explain the discomfort called heartburn.

Heart

The most common symptom for a heart attack is chest pain.[12] However, as many as 30% of chest pain patients undergoing cardiac catheterization have findings that do not account for their chest discomfort. These are often defined as having "atypical chest pain" or chest pain of undetermined origin.[13] Women experiencing heart attacks may also deny classic signs and symptoms[14] and instead complain of GI symptoms instead.[12][15][16] One article estimates that ischemic heart disease may appear to be GERD in 0.6% of people.[11]

Esophagus

Esophagitis

Stomach

Intestines

Gallbladder

Pancreas

Pregnancy

Heartburn is common during pregnancy having been reported in as high as 80% of pregnancies.[20] It is most often due to GERD and results from relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), changes in gastric motility, and/or increasing intra-abdominal pressure.[21][20] The onset of symptoms can be during any trimester of pregnancy.

Unknown Origin

Functional heartburn is heartburn of unknown cause.[22] It is commonly associated with psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It is also seen with other functional gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and is the primary cause of lack of improvement post treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).[22] Despite this, PPIs are still the primary treatment with response rates in about 50% of people.[22] The diagnosis is one of elimination, based upon the Rome III criteria. It was found to be present in 22.3% of Canadians in one survey.[22]

Rome III Criteria
1 Burning retrosternal discomfort
2 Elimination of heart attack and GERD as the cause
3 No esophageal motility disorders[22]

Diagnostic approach

Heartburn can be caused by several conditions and a preliminary diagnosis of GERD is based on additional signs and symptoms. The chest pain caused by GERD has a distinct 'burning' sensation, occurs after eating or at night, and worsens when a person lies down or bends over.[23] It also is common in pregnant women, and may be triggered by consuming food in large quantities, or specific foods containing certain spices, high fat content, or high acid content.[23][24] In young persons (typically <40 years) who present with heartburn symptoms consistent with GERD (onset after eating, when laying down, when pregnant), a physician may begin a course of PPIs to assess clinical improvement before additional testing is undergone.[25] Resolution or improvement of symptoms on this course may result in a diagnosis of GERD.

Other tests or symptoms suggesting acid reflux is causing heartburn include:

GI cocktail

Main article: GI cocktail

Relief of symptoms 5 to 10 minutes after the administration of viscous lidocaine and an antacid increases the suspicion that the pain is esophageal in origin.[27] This however does not rule out a potential cardiac cause[28] as 10% of cases of discomfort due to cardiac causes are improved with antacids.[29]

Biochemical

Esophageal pH monitoring: a probe can be placed via the nose into the esophagus to record the level of acidity in the lower esophagus. Because some degree of variation in acidity is normal, and small reflux events are relatively common, esophageal pH monitoring can be used to document reflux in real-time.[30] Patients are able to record symptom onset to correlate lower esophageal pH with time of symptom onset.

Mechanical

Manometry: in this test, a pressure sensor (manometer) is passed via the mouth into the esophagus and measures the pressure of the LES directly.[31]

Endoscopy: the esophageal mucosa can be visualized directly by passing a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera known as an endoscope attached through the mouth to examine the oesophagus and stomach. In this way, evidence of esophageal inflammation can be detected, and biopsies taken if necessary. Since an endoscopy allows a doctor to visually inspect the upper digestive tract the procedure may help identify any additional damage to the tract that may not have been detected otherwise.[32]

Biopsy: a small sample of tissue from the oesophagus is removed. It is then studied to check for inflammation, cancer, or other problems.[31]

Treatment

Treatment plans should be tailored to the specific diagnosis and etiology of the heartburn. Management of heartburn can be sorted into various categories. Most examples provided here are assuming a diagnosis of GERD or functional heartburn.

Pharmacologic Management

Behavioral Management

Lifestyle Modifications

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Symptoms of heartburn may not always be the result of an organic cause. Patients may respond better to therapies targeting anxiety and symptoms of hyper-vigilance, through medications aimed towards a psychiatric etiology, osteopathic manipulation, and even acupuncture.[22]

Surgical Management

In the case of GERD causing heartburn symptoms, surgery may be required if PPI is not effective.[36] Surgery should not be undergone if functional heartburn is the leading diagnosis.[37]

Epidemiology

About 42% of the United States population has had heartburn at some point.[38]

References

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  2. ^ "Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Adults". The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Archived from the original on 2015-07-25. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  3. ^ "heartburn" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  4. ^ a b Differential diagnosis in primary care. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. p. 211. ISBN 978-0-7817-6812-2.
  5. ^ "Pyrosis Medical Definition - Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary". merriam-webster.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
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  7. ^ Duvnjak, edited by Marko (2011). Dyspepsia in clinical practice (1. Aufl. ed.). New York: Springer. p. 2. ISBN 9781441917300. Archived from the original on 2015-06-21.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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