By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline
For those who have never experienced it before, it’s enough to make you think that a fiery death is imminent. That painful burning in your chest, just behind your sternum, is heartburn, and although the occasional bout of it isn’t going to drive you to an early grave, it might remind you to lay off the Mexican food so close to bedtime.
Heartburn is caused when acid from the stomach splashes back into the esophagus because of a malfunctioning valve called the esophageal sphincter. For some people, heartburn is a major symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, a chronic disorder. Many people, however, have only occasional episodes of heartburn. To combat it, conventional wisdom dictates that you should cut out spicy foods, avoid eating close to bedtime, watch your intake of citrus and alcohol, and prop up the head of your bed so that gravity keeps the acid down. These are all good tips, assuming one of the conventional triggers is causing your heartburn. But like many conditions, not all heartburn stems from common causes.
Taking certain drugs puts some people at risk of heartburn, even if their dietary habits and lifestyle wouldn’t otherwise cause it. Medications to treat heart disease and high blood pressure can relax the muscles in the chest–including the esophageal sphincter–and cause it to become lazy, at which point it allows acid to splash out of the stomach. Oral asthma medications have a similarly relaxing effect. Drugs that fight osteoporosis are well known for causing acid reflux, so much so that they usually come with a warning that women taking them should not lie down immediately afterward. These drugs can increase acid production, as well as damage the lining of the esophagus. It’s also important to limit citrus intake when taking these medications, since citrus is a known trigger of heartburn.
Even nonprescription NSAID pain relievers have been associated with heartburn. People who regularly take these pills for arthritis, headaches, heart disease, or chronic pain are more susceptible to heartburn, as well as to other gastrointestinal problems. Taking the occasional aspirin or ibuprofen doesn’t usually raise a person’s risk, but it can happen. Other drugs that have been linked to heartburn include those used to treat cancer, Parkinson’s disease, muscle spasms, and anxiety.