Heartburn in pregnancy

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Pregnancy pain
Pregnancy pain
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Pregnancy might be a beautiful miracle but it can also be an uncomfortable one, especially when you are experiencing the worst heartburn of your life. And though we may not be able to help you with arguments over baby names or even ‘cankles’, we can help you with ins and outs of heartburn … pun intended.

What is it? Hunk o’ burnin’ love

In talking to obstetricians and most pregnant women, heartburn is considered normal and very common. About 40–80% of pregnant women complain of heartburn.

Heartburn gets its name because sufferers experience a ‘warmth’ or ‘burning’ behind their breastbone, but it technically has nothing to do with the heart. It can burn further up, nearly to your throat, and is often accompanied with other unpleasant nasties like a bitter taste, fullness, burping and difficulty swallowing, as if pregnancy wasn’t hard enough!

These symptoms are caused by reflux of the acidic contents of the stomach, and you may expect them towards the end of the first trimester or in the second trimester. The frequency and severity of the heartburn increases with gestational age, meaning the age of the embryo.

Getting a ‘change of heart’

Other than increase in gestational age, it is thought that multiple previous pregnancies may be a risk factor for heartburn in pregnancy. However, increasing maternal age seems to lessen your chances.

It is also believed to be brought about by several situations:

  • Higher levels of hormones like progesterone and oestrogen, which relax the opening sitting between the oesophagus and stomach;
  • Abdominal pressure from the uterus getting bigger – so basically, a belly full of baby; and
  • Changes in gut motility.

Pregnant women will experience heartburn the same way as everyone else and don’t be alarmed if you experience a little ‘regurgitation’. Obviously not the most charming of all pregnancy side effects – but at least you’ll have a ‘glow’ while it’s happening! And it’s been found that oesophagitis is less common in pregnancy, which is what happens when the oesophagus gets irritated by the acidic contents of the stomach.

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Diagnosing your ‘achy-breaky heart’

A doctor will generally diagnose from your account of the symptoms, and then follow up with a physical exam just to be sure there’s nothing more serious going on. Expect questions regarding:

  • Site of the discomfort;
  • Character (e.g. burning, stabbing, shooting);
  • When you first noticed the symptoms;
  • How long the symptoms last;
  • Any factors that make it better or worse;
  • The presence of any blood in the refluxed material or from your rectum;
  • Any other symptoms; and
  • How this affects you.

How heartburn affects you is the most important one, because if the symptoms are mild then you can probably go without medical treatments. Doctors will diagnose this on a case by case basis, but be sure to tell your doctor about the severity of your symptoms so they can do what’s best for you.

Ahhh … the joys of pregnancy.

More information

Heartburn in pregnancy For more information, see Heartburn in Pregnancy.
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Date Created: April 29, 2012 Date Modified: January 20, 2015