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What Is Heartburn?


Thailand is known for many things, not least of which is its extraordinarily complex, and often spicy, fatty foods. Dishes like gaeng hang lay (northern-style slow-braised pork belly curry), ultra-creamy khao soi (fried and simmered egg noodles in a coconut-rich broth), deep-fried, extra crispy chicken, and the ubiquitous skewers of moo ping, woven with pork fat and glazed with sugar, are addictive precisely because of their richness. Meanwhile, even your average plate of phad kee mao (drunken noodles) or som tum Thai might contain enough tiny, lethal bird’s eye chilies to reduce a grown man to tears.

All of that rich, fatty food is fine for your average teen or twenty-something, who can scarf down a fiery phad krapow moo with no real repercussions. Unfortunately, as the body ages, so does the digestive system. These foods that are particularly taxing for the body to break down suddenly begin to cause more problems as we age. As a result, a Thai-style feast can cause some rather nasty after-effects.

How to recognize heartburn

Heartburn manifests as an unpleasant burning sensation in your chest, usually within a few hours of eating or at night. The pain underneath your breastbone often worsens when lying down.

What causes it exactly?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back up the esophogas instead of staying where it belongs. Normally, in a healthy, fully-functioning body, the lower esophageal sphincter closes to prevent acid from heading back up the throat when food enters the stomach. When these muscles weaken, however, the throat is exposed to splashes of acid, causing the unpleasant burning sensation. Lying down often worsens the situation.

What are some specific trigger foods?

As mentioned, spicy or fatty foods can be particularly problematic, especially if consumed in large quantities by yourself. In other words, a big Isaan-style meal may hurt for the rest of the evening. Fried foods, raw onions, citrus and chocolate are also troublesome. Additionally, coffee and alcohol can significantly worsen the symptoms.

Is it or can it become serious?

Occasional heartburn is normal after a certain age and is nothing to worry about. However, if you are experiencing heartburn on a frequent basis (continuing for more than 2-3 weeks or occurring more than 2-3 days per week), it might be worth consulting your doctor. Heartburn that happens very regularly is known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or (GERD), a serious condition that can do lasting damage to your esophagus, if left untreated.


1. Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions – Heartburn. Available from: Accessed on March 21, 2015.

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