What is it
Heartburn is a common stomach discomfort that affects approximately 60 million Americans annually and about 25 million adults daily. At least one-quarter of all pregnant women experience heartburn every-day. Heartburn gets its name from the chest pains that regularly accompany it pains that can be so severe you may think you’re having a heart attack. In fact, the pains have nothing to do with your heart-rather, they are caused by stomach acid that washes up into the esophagus and produces a burning sensation and discomfort a condition known as gastro esophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
- Most symptoms of heartburn occur after you eat or when you are lying down.
- Painful burning sensation in the upper abdomen that moves up into the chest, often making its way to the neck and back of the throat.
- Belching and regurgitation of bitter gastric juices.
- Discomfort that often worsens when you lie down (unlike chest pain due to heart attack, which is often associated with physical activity).
- In some cases, nausea.
What causes it
The principal cause of this stomach distress is the malfunctioning of your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This muscle temporarily relaxes to let food pass into your stomach and then closes to keep stomach acids from splashing, or refluxing, into your esophagus the food tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. When the LES doesn’t close properly, stomach acids back up and irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing an uncomfortable burning sensation. This typically occurs after meals, when the stomach is secreting gastric juices and when pressure in the stomach is more likely to push stomach contents up through the LES.
If you are pregnant, overweight, or over the age of 40, the LES begins to weaken, increasing your risk of heartburn.
What if you do nothing
Mild occasional heartburn will usually resolve itself in a matter of hours and is no cause for concern. But repeated or persistent heartburn can lead to injury of the esophagus. If you frequently have heartburn, you will probably need to adopt some lifestyle changes in combination with over-the-counter medications to reduce or eliminate the problem.
There are many over-the-counter preparations aimed at alleviating heartburn. None is recommended for long-term use. Be sure to read warning labels carefully. Pregnant women, children, and people with ulcers or kidney problems should consult a doctor before using any type of heartburn medication.
Take an antacid
If you have heartburn symptoms, don’t try to “tough it out.” The discomfort of occasional heartburn once or twice a month can be relieved by taking an over-the-counter antacid. These medications come in tablet, liquid, or foam, and in regular and extra-strength formulations.
The active ingredients in antacid compounds usually consist of one or more of the following ingredients: magnesium, aluminum hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate, or calcium carbonate. Be aware that magnesium-containing antacids may cause diarrhea, while those containing calcium most often cause constipation.
Antacids should remedy the situation almost immediately. A recommended dose taken one to three hours after eating should provide varying degrees of relief. If a single dose fails to bring relief, the problem could be more severe, and you should contact your physician.
Don’t use antacids frequently or regularly. Not only may side effects worsen, but antacid use may mask symptoms that require medical attention. Antacids can also interfere with the absorption of other medications.
Consider one of the new heartburn drugs
The newly approved over-the-counter drugs belong to a class of antacid medications called H2-blockers. The OTC versions which only contain 50 percent of the minimum dosages in the prescription forms are meant to be taken before heartburn strikes in order to prevent excess acid from being. If you already have heartburn, you will get faster relief from a conventional antacid. If you think you are going to get heartburn, H2-blockers may be worth a try.
Don’t drink milk as a remedy
Contrary to popular myth, milk is not a recommended anti- dote to heartburn. A glass of milk does provide immediate relief as it goes down, but milk lacks a buffering action, and well eventually stimulate even more acid production in the stomach. In less than 30 minutes you may develop heartburn that’s more severe than the case you’re treating.
Don’t overeat; instead, eat more frequent, smaller meals
When you over-eat the excess food squeezes your stomach and forces digestive juices upward, Instead of eating a large lunch and large dinner, which cause the stomach to produce a lot of acid eat four to six smaller meals and space them throughout the day.
Avoid fatty or acidic foods
Certain foods regularly bring on discomfort or exacerbate symptoms in many heartburn sufferers. Included on the list are oranges and grapefruit. Bloody Mary mix, yellow onions, tomatoes and tomato based sauces, and greasy or fried meat. Red wine, after-dinner liqueurs, chocolates, and peppermints are also prime causes of heartburn.
Try to avoid becoming constipated
Straining during bowel movements can increase abdominal pressure and encourage heartburn. Increasing your intake of dietary fiber and fluids is the safest, most effective way to promote more efficient elimination.
If you smoke, quit
Smoking affects the lower esophageal sphincter and allows stomach acids to enter the esophagus.
The caffeine in soda, coffee, tea and chocolate can increase the production of stomach acid secretions and lead to heartburn.
Limit your alcohol intake
Many beverages containing alcohol relax the LES and may cause heartburn.
Loosen your belt
If you eat more than usual-loosen your belt after a big meal to keep from squeezing your stomach and forcing acids upward.
Watch those midnight snacks
Don’t eat just before retiring, and don’t eat a large meal less than four hours before bedtime. The combination of a large meal and the horizontal resting position will tilt digestive juices toward your esophagus. It’s better to stay upright for at least several hours after eating.
Raise your bed
If you often get heartburn when you he in your bed. put six-inch blocks of wood under the bed frame at the head of the bed. This will keep your body at a slight angle and keep stomach acids from moving into your esophagus.
Reduce daily stress
If stress causes heartburn, find ways to reduce it through professional counseling, relaxation techniques, or regular exercise.
Check medication side effects
Certain medications such as antihistamines, birth control pills, antihypertensives, sedatives, some he and rugs, and asthma medications may aggravate heartburn because they decrease the strength of the LES. If you are taking any drug regularly, ask your physician if it may be the cause of your heartburn.
If you’re overweight, lose weight
Extra pounds stress the LES and contribute to its weakening.