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  • Just between your chest and abdomen

  • is where you'll find one of the most important muscles

  • you probably didn't know you had:

  • the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES.

  • When functioning properly,

  • this ring of tissue plays a crucial role in helping us eat.

  • But when the LES malfunctions,

  • it becomes the main player in heartburn

  • --a searing, sometimes sour-tasting chest-spasm

  • that many people will experience at some point in their lives.

  • We know that humans have been battling heartburn

  • for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

  • But recently the incidence has risen,

  • making it a common stomach complaint worldwide

  • When the symptoms of heartburn become more more regular and intense

  • such as twice a week week or more--

  • it's diagnosed as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD,

  • But what causes this problem,

  • and how can it be stopped?

  • Heartburn starts in an area called

  • the gastroesophageal junction, where the LES resides.

  • This smooth, muscular ring of the LES

  • is moderated by an intricate tree of nerve roots

  • that connect to the brain, the heart, and the lungs.

  • After food enters the stomach from the esophagus,

  • the muscle's task is to stop it

  • from surging back up again.

  • The LES contracts, squeezing the stomach entrance

  • and creating a high pressure zone

  • that prevents digestive acids from seeping out.

  • But if the LES relaxes at the wrong moment or gradually weakens,

  • it becomes like a faulty, ill-fitting lid,

  • causing the area to depressurize.

  • That allows burning stomach acid--

  • and even chunks of food--to spurt into the

  • esophagus, sometimes going as far up as the mouth.

  • The cause of all this internal drama

  • has long been put down to diet.

  • Foods like caffeine and peppermint contain

  • ingredients that may have a relaxing affect on the LES,

  • which makes it incapable of doing its job.

  • Other acidic foods, like citrus and tomatoes,

  • can worsen irritation of the esophagus

  • when they leach out with stomach acid.

  • Carbonated beverages can similarly

  • bubble up in the stomach,

  • forcing open the valve.

  • But researchers have discovered that food isn't the only trigger.

  • Smoking poses a risk, because the nicotine in cigarettes relaxes the LES.

  • Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol

  • may have a similar effect.

  • Pregnant women often experience more heartburn

  • due to the pressure of a growing

  • baby on their stomachs

  • and the levels of certain hormones in their bodies.

  • Obesity can cause hernias that disrupt

  • the anti-reflux barrier of the gastroesophageal junction

  • that normally protects against heartburn.

  • Numerous medications, including those for asthma,

  • high blood pressure, birth control, and depression

  • can also have unintended effects on the LES.

  • An occasional bout of heartburn isn't

  • necessarily something to worry about.

  • But, if heartburn starts happening regularly,

  • it can weaken the LES muscle over time,

  • letting more and more acid escape.

  • And if it goes untreated,

  • this can cause bigger problems.

  • Over time, constant acid leakage from heartburn

  • may form scar tissue which narrows the

  • esophageal tube, making it harder to swallow food.

  • Ongoing reflux can also damage the cells

  • lining the esophagus--a rare condition called

  • Barrett's esophagus, which can elevate

  • the risk of esophageal cancer.

  • Luckily, heartburn is often treatable with

  • a range of medicines that can help

  • neutralize or reduce stomach acid.

  • In extreme cases, some people have surgery

  • to tighten the LES to minimize their distress.

  • But we can often stop heartburn

  • before it reaches that point.

  • Reducing the consumption of certain foods,

  • not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight

  • can all dramatically reduce reflux.

  • With proper care we can help our LES's keep

  • the chemical fountain of our stomachs in proper order

  • and avoid having to feel the burn.

Just between your chest and abdomen

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B2 US TED-Ed heartburn stomach esophagus acid junction

What causes heartburn? - Rusha Modi

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    April Lu posted on 2018/11/05
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