You've just finished a fantastic 5-course meal and are content with sitting back and relaxing - until you get that burning feeling in your chest. Many people have felt the uncomfortable sensation of heartburn, and though it's not life-threatening, it can cause a disruption in your life and limit your daily activities.

Heartburn is a term that describes a burning sensation that starts from behind the bone in the middle of your chest and moves up to the throat. The burning sensation occurs when some of your stomach contents are pushed up into your esophagus (the tube from your mouth to your stomach). This is called reflux, and it causes the irritation and pain experienced as heartburn. Sometimes heartburn is called acid regurgitation, acid reflux, pyrosis, or sour stomach.

Dyspepsia is a word given to describe a number of signs and symptoms of "stomach upset." Heartburn may be one of these symptoms. When test results fail to show any physical cause to explain your uncomfortable symptoms, it is referred to as "non-ulcer dyspepsia."

You will be more likely to feel the symptoms of heartburn if you:

  • overeat
  • eat too quickly and swallow air
  • eat spicy foods
  • eat greasy or fatty foods
  • eat just before bedtime
  • eat certain foods, such as tomato-based products, chocolate, peppermint, or citrus fruits (for some people)
  • drink too much coffee or alcohol
  • smoke
  • are under a lot of stress
  • are pregnant
  • are overweight
  • wear tight clothes while eating

Heartburn is often just a sign of stomach upset, and it is not necessarily caused by a medical condition. Heartburn, along with other symptoms such as abdominal pain, wheezing, or tightness in your throat, may be a sign of a more serious problem such as GERD (gastroestophageal reflux disease) and PUD (peptic ulcer disease). If you have more than occasional heartburn symptoms or more than just heartburn symptoms, see your doctor.