For sufferers of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn is a constant tormentor brought about by chronic regurgitation of stomach acid and other digestive liquids back up into the esophagus, the long tube that connects your throat to your stomach.
When swallowed food reaches the bottom of the esophagus, the food passes through a valve that separates the end of the esophagus from the top of the stomach. This valve is the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. It opens to allow objects to pass from the esophagus into the stomach, and then closes again to prevent the contents of the stomach from re-entering the esophagus. Or at least that's how it normally works.
When the LES malfunctions, it does so in one of two ways: It either randomly decides to relax (which is the cause of "normal" heartburn), or the LES tries to close but it doesn't completely shut. When either occurs, stomach acid, bile and recently swallowed food or beverages can return through the open valve, moving up the esophagus and even back into the mouth.
Frequent regurgitation of acid can lead to serious conditions such as esophagitis -- inflammation and damage to the esophageal lining -- or esophageal stricture, a narrowing of the esophagus caused by a near-constant state of repair as the esophagus attempts to heal from the effects of esophagitis.
Fortunately, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to relieve the symptoms of GERD. Better yet, you're about to learn about five of these lifestyle changes, starting with your attention span.