Introduction to Common Symptoms Of Heartburn
Your next-door neighbor, Mr. Adam has been complaining about a painful sensation in his chest and throat lately. You have observed that it occurs mostly after he has eaten a large meal.
Mr. Adam tells you that this recurring sensation, which lasts from a few minutes to several hours, has been interfering with his work and sleep.
Looking for ways to help your friend?
The hot sensation and uneasiness felt in the throat after a particularly large or greasy meal is usually a sign of heartburn. It usually surfaces as a pain in the chest and/or upper abdomen after eating, often accompanying a sensation of acid creeping up from the abdomen. Lying down or bending over also triggers this unpleasantness.
Seen in around 20% of the population, it is not highly concerning if the occurrence is few and far in between. Fear not, heartburn is not a disease of the heart but rather, a result of a defect in the esophagus.
The reason behind the nasty acid reflux is quite simple — as the swallowed food reaches the stomach through the food pipe, there is a ring of muscles where the esophagus meets the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It prevents the swallowed food and the digestive juices from climbing back up the food pipe.
When the LES is defective, it becomes loose and lets the contents of the stomach splash up, causing the irritation.
- Smoking, consumption of alcohol, and inclusion of large volumes of caffeinated and carbonated drinks in the diet raises the risks of getting heartburn.
- Unhealthy diets that include fried food, highly acidic foods like orange juice and tomatoes, dairy, and intake of spicy food also cause acid reflux. Different foods cause heartburn for different individuals.
- Another major reason behind regular heartburn is overeating. Eating right before sleeping and lying down immediately after eating also disturbs the stomach’s content.
- Long gaps between meals or skipping meals can lead to acid reflux due to acid overproduction.
- Obesity or being overweight can act as a trigger for heartburn.
- Anxiety-inducing and highly stressful settings often lead to physiological responses like heartburn. It is also an observed side effect in the case of certain medications like ibuprofen.
- Physical strain from heavy exercise routines can lead to acid reflux due to the stress on the abdomen.
- Hiatal hernia is a situation where the stomach bulges up into the chest region. This leads to the upward movement of the stomach acids and results in heartburn.
- Pregnancy hormone or progesterone loosens the lower esophageal sphincter and increases the chance of heartburn during pregnancy.
Aside from the sharp burning feeling, Mr. Adam also complains of:
- experience of bitterness in the mouth and pain in the thoracic region
- the feeling of food constricting the throat
- recurring hiccups and cough
- regurgitation of food worsening the irritation in the digestive canal.
- soreness or hoarseness of the throat
- belching and bad breath
The general indication of acid reflux is the hot, sour, acidic, or salty taste at the back of the throat for most people.
The esophagus does not have protection from the acids and enzymes like the stomach, thus causing irritation when the contents of the stomach flow upwards.
Inform Mr. Adam that recurring heartburns can be a symptom of other underlying conditions. Constant heartburn may lead to esophagitis (esophageal irritation or inflammation due to prolonged exposure of the tissue to acids), Barrett’s esophagus, and even cancer.
Recommend Mr. Adam to try an over-the-counter medicine or an antacid like TUMS, Alka-Seltzer, or Mylanta. These neutralize the acid in the stomach and soothe the burn.
Among the various ways to cool the heartburn, one way is to reduce the acid production in the stomach by utilizing H2 blockers. Pepcid and Tagamet are popular choices under this category. The stomach acid production can also be blocked to an extent by Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec and Prevacid. Both these relief measures have side effects like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
In case of no relief from these medications, minimally invasive surgery is done to repair the LES.
However, the main objective in the treatment of heartburn is to identify the cause to avoid it in the future.
Here are a few tips for Mr. Adam that can go a long way in keeping his condition at bay:
- Heartburn episodes can be prevented by avoiding foods or activities that cause the ailment. Avoiding smoking and alcohol helps as well.
- Making healthy changes in the diet and refraining from overeating also goes a long way. Spicy foods and chocolates increase the chances of acid reflux in some people.
- Dividing meals into smaller portions with regular intervals in between can be done to prevent overeating.
- Keep track of the diet so that the offending food can be easily determined.
- Break the habit of late-night snacking. Eating three to four hours before bedtime decreases the chances of triggering heartburn.
- While lying down, ensure that the head is six to eight inches elevated than the torso. Avoid falling asleep in odd positions to prevent the acidic contents of the stomach from flowing up.
- Herbal teas like ginger and chamomile tea have been proven to help prevent heartburn. Using essential oils topically or internally to aid digestion has been gaining popularity lately.
- It has been recorded that chewing gum after meals helps in lowering the acid levels in the esophagus. Various flavors of mint have been reported to increase the acid reflux.
- Another quick and effective home remedy for heartburn is a concoction of a little baking soda and water. This may lack taste like the commercial antacids but it is equally effective.
- Tight clothes around the waist increase risks of heartburn. Wearing looser clothing relieves force on the digestive system.
Regular bouts of heartburn can be an indication of conditions like GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Seek immediate care if persistent heartburn is accompanied by a change in stool color, bloody vomit, unexpected weight loss, and trouble swallowing.
If Mr. Adam shows these symptoms along with nausea, sweating, breathlessness, unexplained fatigue, or pain radiating along the arm, then call the emergency healthcare services because he might be having a heart attack!
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The acidic taste at the back of the throat and discomfort around the chest region often indicates heartburn. Over-the-counter medications and home remedies usually aid in soothing the burn.
The success of quick remedies and over-the-counter treatments vary across individuals, what works for you may not work for Mr. Adam.
Long term heartburn can affect the quality of life. Consult a doctor if the symptoms do not recede. He can prescribe the best heart disorder medications for treatment.