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Pyrosis (Heartburn): Definition & Symptoms

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Instructor: Lynee Carter
Pyrosis, also known as heartburn, is characterized by pain or discomfort in the chest or upper abdomen. Learn about the definition, causes, and symptoms of pyrosis, and explore the treatment options for this condition. Updated: 10/14/2021

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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  • 0:00 The Digestive System
  • 0:37 What Causes Pyrosis?
  • 1:08 Symptoms of Pyrosis
  • 2:07 How Pyrosis Might Be Treated
  • 2:38 Lesson Summary
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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.

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