Heartburn is annoying, sometimes debilitating, but does it do any harm to your long-term health?
Heartburn is a burning sensation in your throat or upper chest. It’s often worse after eating, when laying down or bending over. It can leave a bitter or acidic taste in the mouth and, in extreme cases, can cause nausea and vomiting.
But when is it merely annoying, and when should you trot off to the doctor ASAP?
First of all, heartburn is a relatively common complaint.
The usual cause of heartburn is when the ring of muscles – otherwise known as a sphincter, yes, just like your bottom – that separates the stomach from the oesophagus doesn’t work so well and the acid bath that is your stomach slides back up the oesophagus, thus the stinging sensation. This is called acid reflux.
An attack can last a few minutes or hours and can also cause an asthma attack or chronic cough.
Anyone can suffer from heartburn but you are more likely to suffer from it if you are overweight, eat large meals, wear tight clothes or smoke.
Pregnancy is also prime heartburn time due to hormonal changes and the baby putting upwards pressure on the stomach.
There are a few issues with persistent heartburn, some more serious than others.
If you are having regular attacks – two or more times a week – it might be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and it’s time to see a doctor.
Usually it’s that pesky oesophageal sphincter again. It could be just not working as it might, or, more seriously, it could be a hernia, so see your doctor who can recommend a plan of action.
Treatment for GORD is usually long-term and includes improving your diet, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, upping your exercise, eating smaller, more frequent meals, and avoiding eating two or three hours before you go to bed.
If the condition is more serious, you may have to take medication, or in some cases surgery may be required.
It’s a good idea to get on top of GORD as it can increase your risk of oesophageal cancer.
Foods to avoid if you suffer from heartburn include tomatoes, onions, garlic, chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods and citrus fruits. If spicy foods are also your trigger it might also be a good time to dial down the zing factor.
Another easy treatment method is simply raising the head of your bed. Chock a few blocks of wood under the legs or rearrange your pillow for more upward support.
If you only occasionally suffer from heartburn, an antacid might do the trick. Shop around until you find one that works for you. Just like the ads suggest, consult your doctor if symptoms persist.
If this isn’t your first rodeo when it comes to heartburn, you’ve probably tried H2 blockers. H2 blockers inhibit the amount of acid the stomach produces so you are less likely to get acid reflux. They can be bought over the counter or on prescription.
Have you had heartburn? How do you treat it? Why not share your suggestions in the comments section below?
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