Heartburn: what can you do about it?
Heartburn can be very annoying. It gives a sour taste in your mouth, a burning sensation in your esophagus and an irritated throat. People who suffer from heartburn are even awake at night. Where does the problem come from and what can you do about it? In this article, we look at the causes of and solutions for heartburn.
The sensation of heartburn is caused by the contents of the stomach flowing back into the esophagus. This is also called ‘reflux.’ This backflow can have the following causes:
- Too wide an opening of the esophagus. This is also called a diaphragm fracture. The opening between the stomach and the esophagus is closed by your diaphragm. This is a muscle with a small opening that normally allows food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach, but not back. With a diaphragm fracture, this opening is too large, so that your stomach contents can pass through.
- Too much pressure on the abdomen. This can be caused, for example, by overweight, pregnancy or constipation, but also by a too full or compressed stomach.
- Delayed gastric emptying. With delayed gastric emptying, your food remains in the stomach longer than normal and does not flow properly to the intestines. This often occurs in people with diabetes.
- Relaxation of the sphincter muscle. The diaphragm muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach can also relax, allowing stomach acid to pass through. This can happen as a result of smoking or excessive alcohol drinking, but also due to old age.
- Nutrition. Certain foods have been linked to heartburn. Peppermint, coffee, strong tea, carbonated drinks, sour fruits, spices and chocolate are some examples.
What can you do about heartburn?
Prevention is often easier than cure. If you regularly suffer from heartburn and want to prevent it in the future, you can use the following tips to prevent heartburn.
- Avoid foods that can cause heartburn. Try to reduce the amount of peppermint, coffee, strong tea, carbonated drinks, sour fruits, spicy foods, fatty foods, and chocolate. Also stop smoking. You don’t have to do this all at the same time, but try to cut down on the above foods one by one and you will discover what works and what doesn’t work. After all, every body is different and if something causes heartburn for other people, it doesn’t have to do the same for you.
- Make sure there is not too much pressure on your stomach. Fight obesity if you suffer from this. Also, don’t wear clothes that are tight around your stomach. And possibly eat several smaller meals instead of a number of large meals. Also try to eat slowly and chew well. If you suffer from blockages, have a high-fiber diet. Give your stomach the rest and position it needs. Do not exercise too soon after eating, as this can cause your stomach contents to run back into your esophagus. Also, don’t lie down after a meal (so don’t eat anything just before going to bed).
- The latter has mainly to do with gravity: if you lie horizontally, your stomach contents can flow back into your esophagus. If you have a lot of heartburn at night, you can also try raising your headboard so that your digestive system is not completely horizontal.
Do you suffer from heartburn and the above tips for preventing reflux don’t help you? Then you can go to the drugstore or pharmacy to get medicines for heartburn. These drugs can be divided into two categories: gastric acid blockers and antacids.
Gastric acid binders bind and neutralize your stomach acid, causing it to burn less. You can take these medicines after every meal and before going to bed.
Antacids inhibit the production of stomach acid. Antacids are not good for you in the long term, so only use them when gastric acid binders don’t work and don’t use them for too long.
The danger of antacids
If you have antacids from your doctor or drugstore, with a bit of luck your symptoms will diminish or disappear completely. Unfortunately, these drugs cannot be taken without risk. For example, antacids allow your body to absorb less calcium, so that your bones can be descaled and broken more quickly. Antacids also affect other medications you take. They suppress the action of many other drugs.
Finally, there is a risk that you will become too dependent on antacids. It is not easy to stop, because it is often accompanied by withdrawal symptoms that are suspiciously similar to the reflux symptoms you had before you started the medication. Many people who try to stop therefore continue with it, because they think that the complaints are not over.
If you are on antacids and want to stop taking them, do it gradually. Halve the amount first and then occasionally skip a day. In this way, your body loses its dependence on the antacids and you can stop without any problems.
With stomach complaints to the doctor
Heartburn is unpleasant, but not serious. However? In some cases, it may be better to visit the doctor. This can check whether it is indeed harmless reflux symptoms or perhaps something more serious, such as a stomach ulcer.
In any case, see your doctor if you vomit frequently or lose kilos in a short time for no apparent reason.
The doctor can perform different types of examination, for example, a visual examination (also called gastroscopy). A small camera in your esophagus, stomach and duodenum is then checked to see if something is wrong.
If the doctor determines that it is indeed heartburn, he can also prescribe stronger medicines than the over-the-counter products that you can get without a prescription. The doctor can also discuss the risks of these drugs with you.
In addition, heartburn can be harmful to your body in the long term. Your esophagus can be damaged at some point by the stomach acid that keeps coming up in it.