While heartburn is an unpleasant and sometimes painful condition, there are a number of treatments and preventive measures which can help you.
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD), is a condition in which stomach acid is regurgitated and backs up in the oesophagus.
This can cause a burning feeling behind your sternum in the centre of your chest. An unpleasant sour taste or smell may linger in your mouth for some time after experiencing heartburn, and your voice may become hoarse and scratchy. You may develop a cough afterwards, though these symptoms usually pass after a little while.
In some cases, heartburn can cause nausea and vomiting.
Where the oesophagus joins the stomach is a collection of muscles known as the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). This muscle acts like a gate. When we swallow food, the LOS opens so that the food can enter the stomach. The stomach releases acid and the sphincter closes, preventing the acid from travelling up the oesophagus during digestion.
Damage to the LOS can cause it to function incorrectly, resulting in the LOS remaining open when digestion begins. In this scenario, stomach acid can escape the stomach through the oesophagus. Unlike the stomach, the oesophagus is not equipped with cells which can neutralise the strong stomach acid by secreting an alkali. As a result, the stomach acid burns the oesophagus and causes pain.
Chronic heartburn (GORD) can cause irreversible damage to the cells in the oesophagus and increases the risk of developing more serious conditions such as Barrett's oesophagus or oesophageal cancer.
For people with asthma, GORD can make symptoms worsen and may have an impact on the quality of their breathing. Speak to your doctor if your gastroesophagel reflux is affecting your asthma for further advice.
It's not always clear why heartburn happens to some people. Though, diet and lifestyle factors can be the cause of the condition, or exacerbate symptoms. A common cause of heartburn is indigestion (dyspepsia). When indigestion is the suspected cause of acid reflux, other symptoms such as nausea (feeling sick), burping and wind may also be present.
The following foods can cause acid reflux:
Other factors which contribute to acid reflux and heartburn include:
You may find your symptoms are worse after eating. Lying down and bending over may also make you feel worse, as this increases the changes of stomach acid travelling up your gullet.
In many cases, heartburn can be prevented by making changes to your lifestyle, such as adjusting your diet or quitting smoking. If your symptoms are particularly disruptive to your lifestyle, speak to your doctor about available treatments.
It may be a good idea to record your bouts of heartburn in a diary. Keeping a record of your symptoms can be valuable to both yourself and your doctor in determining possible triggers of acid reflux. You should include the following:
Adjusting your eating habits may help to mitigate your symptoms. Eating habits go beyond what you eat and encapsulate how you eat. Aim to eat at regular intervals during the day and balance your portions accordingly. If you have a later lunch, consider eating a breakfast which consists of slow releasing energy such as whole grain cereal or oats. Avoid fizzy drinks and foods which contain a high amount of refined sugars, such as sickly sweet deserts, as they can contribute to your symptoms. Each meal should provide enough energy until your next meal. When eating a meal, sit down and slow down; chew your food properly before swallowing and sit down while eating to aid digestion. Take into account your post-eating habits - what do you do after eating? You should wait at least an hour after eating a meal before exercising. If you take a nap after eating dinner, you may need to make adjustments to your resting position to prevent acid reflux.
The NHS recommends adjusting your bed so that your head is higher than your waist. One way of achieving this is to prop your head and shoulders up on some pillows. This will reduce the chance of stomach acid entering your oesophagus while resting.
Numerous studies have indicated that sleeping on your right-hand side can aggravate heartburn symptoms. It is believed that sleeping on your right relaxes the lower oesophageal sphincter, allowing acid to enter the oesophagus during sleep. Sleeping on your left-hand side, however, may ease your heartburn symptoms.
Other tips for preventing acid reflux include:
If you suspect your acid reflux is a side effect of medication you are taking, speak to your doctor or a pharmacist for advice. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist about any side effects you experience. You should never stop taking a medicine unless your doctor has instructed you to do so.
If you suffer from recurrent acid reflux, speak to your doctor about your symptoms. There are a number of medicines which can help treat the unpleasant symptoms of heartburn.
Our UK pharmacy stocks a variety of different heartburn treatments.
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