Hey Doc, of late I have been having terrible heartburn and it seems like those around me are also have the same. I think it gets worse after eating and when I lie down at night. I thought it would go away but it has persisted. What can I do about it?
Mrs Jane X
Sorry to hear you have not been well. Heart burn happens when acid flows the wrong way, from the stomach up into the food pipe. Acid may cause you to have a cough and burning chest pain especially when you lie down. Sometimes it can bring up bits of food or sour tasting liquid into your mouth. In other words, ‘heartburn’ is a backflow of acid from the stomach which is called ‘acid reflux’. In more technical terms we call it ‘gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)’.
What are some other common causes of acid reflux?
- Heartburn is caused by increased levels of hormones that increase acid production combined with pressure from the growing fetus. The third trimester seems to be the commonest time women experience heart burn.
- Smoking may contribute to acid reflux disease.
- Being overweight or obese. Losing weight contributes to relieving heartburn.
- Stomach abnormalities. One common cause of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia, which can occur in people of any age. This is literally when the upper part of the stomach slides into the chest region.
- Some medicines painkillers (such as aspirin or ibuprofen), antibiotics, muscle relaxers, or certain blood pressure medications. Your doctor will let you know if your meds are making the heart burn worse.
- Stomach infection with a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. There is good medication for this ailment which is easily diagnosed by doing a stool test.
What makes heartburn worse?
- Food: Different types of food such as red meat, fatty and fried foods, spinach, sukuma wiki, onions, acidic foods, citrus fruits and chocolate. Heavy meals are also a no! no! My advice to you is that you should get to know the kind of foods that make it worse for you and you avoid them.
- Drinks: Most of these are acidic in nature and they irritate the lining of the food pipe.
- Sugary drinks
- Carbonated drinks like sodas, increase stomach gases and make you burp which also makes things worse.
- Beverages and drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea and cola drinks.
- Alcohol is not only acidic but works to relax the valve between your stomach and food pipe, thereby letting acid escape more easily.
What can make the heart burn better?
- How about trying out a water melon, bananas and cantaloupe? These low-acid fruit that could sooth the symptoms and make you feel better.
- High fibre foods and complex carbs. Oats are high in fibre and brown rice is complex carbohydrate. These foods take longer to digest than simple carbs like white rice, pastries or sugary drinks. The extra fiber tends to help.
- Non acidic Drinks. Mrs X your best drink may actually be water or milk. A little milk can give instant relief while too much may aggravate the situation.
- Antacid meds. Many of these can be bought from chemists as over the counter drugs for use as a first aid measure. Antacids neutralize stomach acid to cut down on heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. Some antacids also contain simethicone, an ingredient that helps your body get rid of gas. However some antacids contain ingredients that can cause diarrhea, such as magnesium, or constipation, such as aluminum.
- Lifestyle changes: Go to bed 2 hours after your last meal and avoid heavy meals at night. Small frequent meals are much better than large food portions. Sleep a little propped up rather than flat on your stomach or back. Regular exercise will help your body digest your food well and reduce the production of gas.
Remember that persistence of symptoms should prompt you to get professional medical help. Your doctor may need to carry out investigations to determine the cause and treatment the acid reflux. Self-medication can be dangerous! Sometimes GERD is a sign of a more serious disease.
When should you definitely see a doctor even without trying home remedies? See a doctor when the heart pain is accompanied with a:-
- Feeling of fullness, tightness, or dull pressure or pain generally in the center of your chest
- Feeling like a belt is being tightened around your chest
- Pain that comes on with exercise, and is relieved by rest
- Sudden chest pain or pressure that gets worse
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pain that spreads to your shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms
- Pain that gets better quickly after taking nitroglycerin
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat along with other symptoms
Finally…and again! If pain persists, see a doctor.