Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest. It’s a fairly common occurrence, and is normally harmless. In most cases, sufferers can resolves the pain with dietary changes or over-the-counter medications. But persistent heartburn may require attention from a medical expert.
GERD – Heartburn is a symptom of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic digestive condition that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows back into the esophagus. The acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and causes the symptoms of GERD.
Symptoms of heartburn include the following:
- A burning pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating
- The pain in the chest may worsen when you lie down or bend over
- Burning can extend to the throat when experiencing acid reflux
People experience the discomfort of heartburn when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. What should normally happen when you eat or drink is that your lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus, relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. After that, it closes. But if this muscle relaxes or gets weak, the acid can creep up your esophagus, causing heartburn.
The most common cause of developing heartburn is diet. Eating too much at one meal can trigger heartburn, particularly if you lay down soon afterward. Certain foods, even in moderate portions, can trigger heartburn:
- Carbonated beverages
- Coffee or tea (regular or decaffeinated)
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes) * Fatty or fried foods
- Foods containing tomato (spaghetti sauce, salsa, pizza)
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods (with chili, curry, black pepper)
Other risk factors for heartburn include obesity, smoking and certain medications.
In most cases of heartburn, symptoms can be treated by changing diet and/or medications. Simple antacids that neutralize stomach acid work well. If heartburn persists, even after changing diet and taking antacids, the next step is to see a doctor, who may prescribe a medication that will lessen the stomach’s production of acid. There is even medication that will help the stomach empty foods faster, minimizing risk of heartburn.
If all of the above fails, it may be a sign of something worse that requires a surgical procedure. Popular over-the-counter or prescription medications include:
- Antacids (Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, Riopan)
- H2 blockers (Tagamet HB, Zantac 75, Pepcid AC, Axid AR)
- Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) (Nexium, Prevacid, AcipHex, Protonix, Kapidex, Prilosec)
The most holistic remedy for heartburn is changing your lifestyle. Eliminating triggers may save you money and eliminate the need for medication.
- Ginger – It relaxes the smooth muscle along the walls of the esophagus.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Served in water, it’s a popular home remedy.
- Lemon Balm – It’s a perennial herb that is a gentle sedative and digestive aid.
- Chewable DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) – Licorice flavonoids help inhibit acid secretion. *Aloe Vera Juice – The ingredients act upon the lower esophageal sphincter. Do not take directly form the aloe vera plant.
- Slippery Elm – Contains a gel-like substance that is thought to coat the esophagus and reduce irritation.
- Marshmallow – Not to be confused with the puffy sweet treat, this herb is believed to coat and soothe the lining of the esophagus.
- Bladderwrack – A brown algae (seaweed), bladderwrack contains alginic acid forms a seal at the top of the stomach
There are many ways that you can prevent heartburn:
- Eat smaller more frequent meals
- Avoid trigger foods and drinks
- Don’t eat within a couple hours of sleep
- Reduce stress
- If obese, lose weight
Before you use any remedy other than an over-the-counter- antacid, consult your doctor. Some alternatives may interact negatively with other medications or certain conditions.
The Internet has a host of resources for people who sufferer from GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
The National Heartburn Alliance (http://www.heartburnalliance.com)
The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) (www.gastro.org)
Forums: About.com (http://forums.about.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=messages&webtag=ab-heartburn&lgnF=y)