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Banishing the Burn

Nov 28, 2012 11:09PM ● Published by Anonymous

The result is inevitable, often painful, and as predictable as a Mayflower descendant’s lineage. You are going to experience indigestion and heartburn.

Of course that aching, burning feeling in the middle of our chest or back doesn’t really mean our hearts are on fi re—but heartburn can certainly be painful. And what better way to describe the wretched experience of stomach acid creeping into the esophagus where it doesn’t belong?

Heartburn has been around for about as long as mankind has been digesting. In fact, sometime around 200 A.D., the Greek physician Galen coined the term heartburn (cardialgia). And while the words used to explain this affliction teeter between poetic, scientific, and down-home (acid reflux, dyspepsia, colic, bellyache, gnawing, pyrosis), they continue to describe the same set of painful symptoms: burning pain and/or pressure from the breastbone to the throat, front and back—often along with a bitter, acidic taste.

What a Relief It Is

Unfortunately anyone, even babies, can experience too much acid in the stomach and/or poor muscle control in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle responsible for preventing backflow from the stomach to the throat. Many of the symptoms associated with heartburn can be reduced or eliminated with lifestyle modifications that go beyond food choices.

For the 60 million Americans who experience less-frequent heartburn (once or twice a month), a simple over-the-counter remedy should suffice. Do-it-yourself cures involve anything from chewing gum to swallowing a teaspoon of yellow mustard. If you’re looking for more conventional solutions, try the following suggestions recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American College of Gastroenterology (ACG):

Sit up after Eating.

Don’t stretch out on the couch to watch the big game. Wait two to three hours before reclining after eating. This can help to prevent undigested food and stomach acids from fl owing through the LES.

Quit Smoking.

Tobacco not only prevents saliva formation (the body’s natural buffer against acid), but it also causes an overstimulation of stomach acid and can relax the LES.

Avoid Trigger Foods.

Caffeinated foods like coffee and chocolate, greasy and spicy foods, acidic foods, alcohol, and fatty foods can cause increased pressure on the LES, thus causing reflux of acid from the stomach to the esophagus. Heartburn sufferers have different food “triggers,” so keeping a food diary that documents when heartburn occurs can help pinpoint which foods to avoid.

Lose Weight.

Even skinny people can get heartburn but having extra abdominal fat may exert pressure on the stomach and LES.

Try Over-the-Counter-Medications.

Many different brands of acid reducers can be bought without a prescription. H2 blockers (Zantac 75 and Pepcid AC) and proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec OTC) suppress gastric acid secretion, and calcium carbonate (Tums and Rolaids) neutralizes stomach acid. The ACG recommends consulting a physician if you are using over-the-counter medications more than twice a week for heartburn related symptoms.

In some cases your prescription medications may be the cause of acid reflux. Examples include certain pain medications (NSAIDs including Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen), blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers and beta-blockers), asthma medications (bronchodilators), and tricyclic antidepressants. Do not stop taking medications without first discussing a treatment plan with your healthcare provider.

Somewhere between antiquity and now, heartburn changed from an affliction of the soul, “a fire of passion,” to “an uneasy burning sensation in the lower part of the chest” (see the Oxford English Dictionary). Ironically, whether it is the poetic “heart-burne” of Ovid’s Metamorphosis or the functional medical jargon of Galen, many have been caught in its grips. Fortunately for us, acid indigestion is far easier to cure. Happy eating

 

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