Pyrosis is the medical term for heartburn. Although it has nothing to do with the heart, people with pyrosis say they feel a burning sensation primarily in the chest after eating. Learn more about it in this lesson.

The Digestive System

When you eat, food travels from the mouth through the esophagus and down into the stomach. The stomach contains acid that helps break down the food. Conveniently, the stomach has a protective lining that allows it to handle the acid that the esophagus does not possess.

At the bottom of the esophagus there is a sphincter. It acts like a door by opening to allow food in the stomach. It also closes to keep the stomach contents out of the esophagus. When the sphincter does not work properly, the contents of the stomach (including the acid) travel back into the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation. This is called pyrosis, or more commonly, heartburn.

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What Causes Pyrosis?

There are a number of causes of pyrosis, which plagues millions of people around the world. Some of these reasons include:

  • Foods such as chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol can loosen the sphincter and cause it to open when it shouldn’t.
  • The position of the body can make the sphincter easier to open. This happens when someone is lying on their back, side, or bending over
  • Any type of pressure on the abdomen, like tight clothing, pregnancy, and obesity, can force the sphincter to open.
  • Movements that involve lifting, straining, and coughing can cause the sphincter to open.

Symptoms of Pyrosis

The pain of pyrosis is described as a burning sensation that begins in the chest behind the breastbone and spreads to the neck, throat, and jaw. It can also start in the abdomen and produce a feeling of gas, fullness, and gnawing discomfort that occurs after eating. Sometimes the pain is so severe that it is difficult to distinguish from the pain experienced when having a heart attack.

Regurgitation is when some of the stomach contents travels back through the esophagus into the mouth. It is similar to vomit but comes up in liquid form and leaves a bitter or sour taste in the mouth. This occurs more when someone is lying down, bending over, straining, and belching.

Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing and occurs in severe cases of pyrosis. People feel like food is stuck in their throat or experience a sore throat. This is the result of the stomach contents irritating or damaging the esophagus lining.

Respiratory Problems can develop when someone has had pyrosis for a long time. There may be increased coughing and shortness of breath. It may also cause hoarseness and lead to other respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

How Pyrosis Might Be Treated

The treatment of pyrosis depends on its severity. In mild cases, relief can be obtain by sitting or standing up, eating smaller meals, losing body fat when overweight, and avoiding the foods that cause pyrosis. In more severe cases, medication may be needed. People can start to take over-the-counter drugs called antacids that neutralize stomach acid. If they do not work, medications that reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces, cause the stomach to empty food faster into the intestine, or prevent the stomach from secreting acid are all prescribed by a doctor.

Lesson Summary

  • Pyrosis, or heartburn, is when a burning sensation is felt in the chest from stomach acid that has traveled back into the esophagus.
  • Pyrosis is caused when the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus does not work properly. This can happen due to eating certain foods, the position of the body, certain types of pressure on the abdomen, and any movements that involve lifting, straining, and coughing.
  • Pyrosis symptoms include pain, regurgitation, dysphagia, and respiratory problems.
  • Pyrosis treatments may or may not include medications, depending on its severity.