Heartburn is a common symptom that affects over 60 million Americans on a monthly basis. This burning sensation in the chest is most common among the elderly, but heartburn can affect people of all ages including children, toddlers and infants. Several factors can contribute to heartburn, such as diet, body weight, medications, eating habits, and pregnancy. However, among young adults, the two most common causes include alcohol and medications.
Heartburn stems from acid reflux, a condition in which stomach acid and undigested food escape into the esophagus. Acid reflux typically occurs in young adults due to increased acidity in the stomach or a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscular valve that closes the top of the stomach to prevent acid from escaping.
All types of alcohol cause the LES to relax, allowing stomach acid to creep back into the esophagus and irritate sensitive tissues. Certain drink ingredients can also increase stomach acidity and contribute to the occurrence of reflux. Citrus is highly acidic and is a common ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as margaritas, screwdrivers, and whiskey sours. Drinks mixed with soda or other carbonated liquids are also problematic because the carbonation increases gastric pressure and encourages stomach acids to rise back into the esophagus.
Common over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are known to trigger heartburn in young and mature adults. These side effects can be compounded when medications are taken to relieve symptoms of over-drinking. Other medications that may trigger heartburn symptoms include antibiotics, sedatives, tricyclic antidepressants, iron and potassium supplements, blood pressure medications, and bone health supplements (Source: Heartburn Remedies).
Young adults who occasionally experience heartburn should consider lifestyle changes which can alleviate their symptoms. This may include:
- Limiting alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Losing excess weight
- Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet
- Avoiding common trigger foods such as tomatoes, garlic, onions, and fried or spicy food
- Practicing portion control
- Giving food 2-3 hours to digest before lying down
Heartburn symptoms that occur more than twice per week or are accompanied by hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, or the sensation of a lump in the throat should be evaluated by a doctor, as these could be signs of a more serious condition.