Heartburn is aptly named because it is the feeling of a burning sensation in the chest. As a general rule, it is common to occasionally feel a heartburn, meaning that there is no need to panic if you experience it every now and then. A heartburn is caused by a build-up of stomach acid in your food pipe.
As such, it typically leads to a burning sensation in the central area of your chest, directly behind your breastbone. In most cases, a heartburn feels worse after you have eaten something. Therefore, lying down flat, lying on your right side or bending over can make it much worse. Furthermore, if you are pregnant or significantly above your healthy weight, heartburn may be aggravated.
Despite the fact that heartburn is commonly experienced, it is possible that you have a more serious underlying condition if you feel heartburns frequently. Overall, heartburns should not happen so regularly that they interfere with your daily life. For that reason, if you experience a heartburn often, you are encouraged to get checked out by a doctor or stomach specialist. In most situations, there are simple ways of preventing them altogether.
How to Prevent Heartburn
If you occasionally experience the horrible sensation of a heartburn, you can manage the discomfort with medications that are accessible over the counter. Furthermore, making lifestyle or dietary changes can also prevent heartburn altogether. For instance, certain foods and drinks are more likely to bring on heartburn, meaning that you should avoid them in order to prevent this pain. As such, be mindful of the following foods and drinks, which are known for commonly causing heartburn:
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated drinks
- Products containing tomato, such as ketchup
- Fatty meals
- Large portions of food (otherwise known as overeating)
In addition to the foods and drinks that you should avoid consuming in order to prevent triggering heartburns, there are other steps you can take. For example, you should aim to avoid eating meals late in the day, or lying down after consuming food. As such, you should wait at least three hours before you do lie down. Moreover, maintaining a healthy weight can help you prevent heartburn. Having excess weight can contribute to putting extra pressure on your abdomen, which pushes your stomach and causes acid to back up into your food pipe. Another way of putting less pressure on your abdomen is to avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing, like skinny jeans. Furthermore, avoiding alcohol and smoking are other great preventive tactics for this condition.
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If you experience heartburns often, you can potentially prevent it by raising the head of your bed. Overall, this simple tactic may allow you to ease the heartburn and get a better night’s sleep. If you are unable to raise the head of your bed, you can insert a wedge under your mattress in order to elevate your body from the waist up.
Medications to Help Your Heartburn
If you wish to buy over-the-counter medicine to ease your heartburn, you have several available options. Generally, antacids can provide quick relief by neutralizing your stomach acid. However, if your food pipe has actually been damaged by your stomach acid, antacids will not help it heal.
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H-2-receptor antagonists can also reduce stomach acid. Despite the fact that H-2 receptors do not work as quickly as antacid medication, H-2-receptor antagonists can provide longer pain relief. Furthermore, omeprazole and lansoprazole, which are proton pump inhibitors, can reduce stomach acid as well. For ongoing cases of heartburn where these medications do not help, you can be prescribed a stronger medication by your doctor. In addition, you may be prescribed additional medication if your heartburn is the result of another medical condition.
What is GERD?
If you have heartburn more than twice a week and it is strong enough to interfere with your daily life at work and home, it is possible that you have a more serious health problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The main symptom of GERD is heartburn, but it can also be accompanied by a shortness of breath and/or pains in your arms or neck.
To determine whether or not you have GERD, you must consult with your doctor for an official diagnosis. GERD can cause severe damage to your food pipe or lead to specific precancerous conditions. The latter condition is known as Barrett’s esophagus. When you visit your doctor, he or she may recommend one or various ways of determining whether your heartburn is symptomatic of GERD. These include:
- An endoscopy to check for abnormalities in your esophagus. It may be necessary to take a tissue sample in order for it to be analyzed.
- An X-ray, which checks the condition and shape of your stomach and esophagus.
- An esophageal motility test will measure the pressure and movement of your esophagus.
- An ambulatory acid probe test identifies how long your stomach acid has been backing up.
If it is discovered that your heartburn is a symptom of GERD, treatment will consist of making lifestyle changes and taking over-the-counter medication. If you do not get better after a few weeks, you may be prescribed other medication by your doctor. Surgery and other procedures are also occasionally used to treat GERD.
Most of the lifestyle changes made to treat GERD are similar to those recommended for normal cases of heartburn. Thus, you must avoid certain foods, do not put on excess weight, stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes and avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing. Eating and chewing your food slowly is also shown to help.
Furthermore, non-prescribed medications used to treat GERD tend to be the same ones used for heartburn. Medicine prescribed by your doctor for GERD includes prescription-strength H-2 receptor blockers, prescription-strength proton pump inhibitors and medication to relax your lower esophageal sphincter, such as Baclofen.
If medication does not help, or if you prefer to not take medication on a long-term basis, there are available surgery procedures to treat GERD. These procedures include:
- Inserting a LINX device – This involves wrapping a tiny ring of magnetic beads around the junction of your esophagus and stomach. The beads are weak enough so food can still pass through, but strong enough so the junction does not receive refluxing acid. The procedure for inserting a LINX device involves a minimally invasive surgery.
- Fundoplication – This is another minimally invasive surgical procedure. It involves your stomach being partially or completely wrapped around your lower esophageal sphincter. This tightens your muscles to prevent reflux acid entering.
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