Got heartburn? You’re not alone. Nearly a third of U.S. adults experience heartburn each week, according to a 2020 study published in the journal Gastroenterology. And almost everyone will experience it at some point in their lives, says the American College of Gastroenterology.
Heartburn is what you feel when you have reflux: acidic stomach contents flowing back into the tube that connects your mouth and your stomach, irritating the tissue there. It often occurs after a meal or when you lie down, and it can feel like burning in your throat or a pain in your chest, says Sonja Olsen, M.D., a gastroenterologist with Tampa General Hospital’s Gastro Group of the Palm Beaches.
Heartburn can also manifest as a cough, or the feeling that you need to repeatedly clear your throat, she says.
If it occurs often, you might be diagnosed with frequent heartburn, which doctors call gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Heartburn is especially common among older adults, experts say, thanks to the toll time takes on the aging body. For example, the esophagus thins and the muscles that are meant to keep the acid in the stomach weaken with increasing age.
Weight gain can also play a role. Obesity is a major risk factor for heartburn because — like pregnancy — the extra weight puts pressure on the stomach, especially when someone reclines, pushing up acid and causing discomfort.
But some of the most frequent triggers of heartburn in older adults are the pills, of all varieties, that people take to stay well.
“Medicines are a big reason, honestly, and supplements,” said Cary Cotton, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the gastroenterology division at the University of North Carolina.
To learn more about medicines that may cause heartburn, from AARP, CLICK HERE.