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What causes heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom. It's that painful burning sensation you feel in your chest area when you experience acid reflux—stomach acid creeping back up into your esophagus.

Normally, a muscular valve at the end of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), helps keep what you eat and drink—as well as digestive juices—in your stomach, where it all belongs. But when the LES is weak or otherwise doesn't work right, acid reflux occurs. Stomach contents move back up into the esophagus, and you experience what is known as heartburn. Heartburn hurts because your esophagus doesn't have the same protective lining that your stomach does.

About 60 million people in the US experience heartburn once a month, and as many as 15 million people may experience heartburn every day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.