Last Updated October 11th, 2019
What is heartburn?
A burning sensation in the chest and throat is referred to as heartburn or acid reflux. This generally occurs after eating anything spicy. It may also occur due to overeating, which in turn, can cause indigestion. Recurrent acid reflux symptoms lead to a medical condition called as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Acid reflux was named heartburn because the symptoms of acid reflux are very similar to a heart attack.
In both cases, a person feels pain and burning sensation in the center of the chest that can even make you throw up. Due to the similarity of symptoms with a heart attack, it was named heartburn. The main cause of heartburn is due to the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. This is similar to an on/off valve that controls food to enter the stomach and acids and gasses to escape from the stomach.
When this esophageal sphincter does not control the inflow and outflow properly, it can lead to food escaping from the stomach and reach the esophagus resulting in heartburn. There are several home remedies available for heartburn, which not only acts as a first aid when you experience heartburn but can also prevent its occurrence in the future.
- Heartburn does not involve your heart.
- Even second-hand smoke can cause acid reflux.
- Heartburn can be caused even by the way you sleep.
- Spicy foods and medications can cause heartburn.
- Obesity can cause heartburn.
What causes heartburn?
As discussed earlier, the main cause of heartburn or acid reflux is due to the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. Since it is called heartburn, many would think that it has something to do with the heart, but the fact is that it has nothing to do with the heart and is mainly due to digestive problems. Since the symptoms are related to a heart attack, it is commonly called heartburn. In fact, many people get confused with heart attack symptoms for acid reflux and delay seeking medical attention.
When the lower esophageal sphincter fails to trap stomach fluids inside the stomach, these fluids travel up the esophagus and later to the throat and mouth that causes burning sensation as well as pain in the chest and throat. The digestive fluid contains acids that can irritate the lining of the esophagus and throat. When these acids stay on the lining of the esophagus and throat, there is an increase in inflammation and subsequently, the pain may worsen. Some of the main reasons why the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions can be attributed to numerous factors such as spicy and greasy food, consuming large amounts of food in a single sitting, effects of stressful situations, as well as side effects of certain medications.
Majority of these causes can be managed easily and there is hardly any need to visit the emergency room. A recurrent bout of acid reflux or heartburn at least twice a week for a few weeks can lead to a more serious medical condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is recommended to not ignore these symptoms when they first occur and necessary steps need to be taken to prevent them from occurring again in the future.
Symptoms associated with heartburn
Heartburn which is also referred to as indigestion can cause some uncomfortable feeling and these include:
- The sensation of pain and burning in the chest.
- Pain in the abdomen shortly after eating.
- Pain can radiate from the stomach to the throat.
- The sensation of fluid build-up at the back of the throat, with a bitter or sour taste.
- Feeling of fullness.
- Nausea with belching and burping.
What is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?
As discussed earlier, a recurrent attack of acid reflux that occurs for a few weeks continuously is called gastroesophageal reflux disease. This is when it interferes with your daily life. Some of the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease include bad breath, sour taste in the mouth, problems with breathing, cough, raspy voice, nausea, sore throat, painful swallowing, as well as vomiting.
GERD attacks on a regular basis may also indicate a more serious medical condition such as stomach ulcers. This is caused when the stomach fluids disrupt the stomach lining causing an ulcer to form on the stomach wall. Untreated ulcers can lead to further complications and can even be life-threatening.
Some of the complications related to GERD include:
- Asthma, choking, as well as repeated pneumonia.
- Barrett’s esophagus, which is the esophagus lining may be disrupted and lead to cancer of the esophagus.
- Esophagitis (painful inflammation of the esophagus).
- Swallowing problems due to esophageal stricture.
Natural Home Remedies to Treat Acid Reflux/Heartburn
Ginger is known to increase protective prostaglandins in the stomach lining, which helps the stomach from getting damaged. Antioxidants present in ginger can reduce the growth of H. Pylori. This property of ginger can prevent stomach ulcers. There are several other benefits associated with ginger and these include relieving motion sickness, improve blood circulation, reduce risk factors for heart disease, and perk up the immune system.
You can gain the benefits of ginger by preparing ginger tea. Add a few slices of ginger to a cup of hot water and allow it to seep in for a few minutes. You can sip on this healthy drink when you are having symptoms of heartburn.
This is used to neutralize the stomach acids due to its high pH level. This prevents stomach acid from irritating the esophagus that can cause inflammation. You could swallow a teaspoon of baking soda or mix it with water and consume to reduce the symptoms of heartburn.
Chewing gum is not only to blow bubbles, but they are also used to stimulate saliva in your mouth. The production of extra saliva can reduce the concentration of stomach fluids and reduce the acidic levels. This helps relieve symptoms of acid reflux.
These are called alkaline foods. The fermentation process involves raw vegetables that are broken down into amino acids and peptides. This increases the pH levels of fermented food. Consuming this fermented food neutralizes the stomach acids and helps the digestive system. They can also soothe the stomach lining and relieve stomach inflammation.
Mustard has numerous minerals and is also considered to be an alkaline food. It is helpful in controlling the symptoms of acid reflux when consumed at the onset of symptoms, as it is helpful in balancing the pH levels.
Aloe vera is widely popular to treat various skin conditions, but the benefits do not stop there, aloe juice can soothe the lining of the esophagus and prevents irritation and reduce the inflammation caused by acid reflux.
Munch on some banana or apple
An apple a day not only keeps the doctor away but also keeps acid reflux away. Bananas and apples can relieve acid reflux symptoms due to the presence of antacids.
Chamomile has numerous health benefits that can balance stomach acid levels and provide relief for heartburn symptoms. Consuming a cup of Chamomile tea before bed can provide a soothing effect on your stomach.
How to prevent heartburn?
Eat in small quantities
People facing recurrent symptoms of acid reflux generally have a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. It is a muscle that operates as on/off valve which controls the intake and output of stomach contents. It generally is closed and opens only when something is swallowed and during belching or vomiting. This muscle can malfunction when there is pressure exerted leading it to open and allowing the stomach fluids to escape to the esophagus. The pressure may be exerted when you eat in large quantities or eat spicy or greasy food. Eating a healthy diet and eating them in small quantities can be the first step towards preventing heartburn.
Lose that extra belly fat
Belly fat is one of the leading causes of a medical condition called hiatus hernia. In a healthy individual, the diaphragm supports and strengthens the lower esophageal sphincter, which controls the stomach fluids from exiting the stomach. When there is excess belly fat, the pressure of the abdomen increases and pushes the lower esophageal sphincter upwards and away from the support of the diaphragm. This causes the lower esophageal sphincter to open leading to a medical condition called hiatus hernia. Obese people and pregnant women are at increased risk of acid reflux or heartburn due to a hiatus hernia. Studies have indicated that a reduction in belly weight can relieve acid reflux symptoms.
Follow a low-carb diet
Studies have claimed that carbs that are not digested cause excess growth of bacteria in the stomach. Due to the increased growth of bacteria, the acidity levels increase and this makes you gassy and bloated. This is considered to be one of the causes of acid reflux. Studies have claimed that antibacterial treatment can help reduce the numbers of bacteria and reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. Similarly, probiotics with healthy bacteria can be used to relieve the symptoms of heartburn.
Avoid alcohol intake
Alcohol can increase stomach acid as well as relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This reduces the ability of the esophagus to clear the acids. Studies have claimed that even moderate intake of alcohol can cause reflux symptoms in healthy individuals.
Limit drinking coffee
Coffee being one of the favorite beverages, it is common to sip on them quite often. Studies have claimed that coffee can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, which subsequently increases the risk of acid reflux. It is believed that caffeine is the main ingredient present in coffee that is responsible for this. It is also advised to avoid caffeinated beverages, which may increase the risk factor associated with acid reflux.
Avoid foods that increase stomach acid
Managing diet can greatly decrease the symptoms of acid reflux. Adjusting your diet to remove foods that can trigger the formation of excess stomach fluids is necessary. These foods include fried foods or processed foods, canned foods that are added artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and flavors. Similarly, onions, tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, coffee, peppermint, as well as alcohol can irritate your stomach. It should be noted that avoiding these foods completely may not be possible, but limiting them is definitely possible and will help greatly reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
Stress plays an important role in the production of stomach fluids. An increased amount of stress can exacerbate the production of stomach acids that can irritate the stomach lining as well as the esophagus. Several stomach related problems are associated with stress and these include irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, as well as acid reflux. Studies have also indicated that symptoms of reflux esophagitis disorders are directly associated with psychosocial stress levels and the severity of the disease correlates with the degree of stress.
Raise the head of the bed
People suffering from acid reflux need to raise the head of the bed while sleeping. Experts claim that lying down after sleeping can increase the risk of acid reflux as it becomes easier for the stomach fluids to flow back to the esophagus and the throat. It is believed that keeping the head of the bed elevated naturally keeps the food pipe above the stomach, which helps the stomach fluids to stay back in the stomach.
Avoid food near bedtime
You might face night time reflux if you have a habit of eating late or eating just before bedtime. The foods which you eat needs some time to digest and it would require a minimum of three to four hours for the simplest of foods to digest. It is believed during this digestion process, the stomach fluids are at a peak as it is required to digest the food. This clearly indicates that sleeping right after eating can drastically increase the chances of acid reflux.
Wear loose-fitting clothes
Wearing tight fitting clothes can affect people who are obese. Clothes that fit tight around the waist might cause pressure on the stomach and these are chances of exacerbating the symptoms of acid reflux.
Experts claim that numerous dietary factors are responsible for acid reflux to occur. It should also be noted that a psychological factor called stress also can play an important role in the occurrence of acid reflux. A simple lifestyle change can impact greatly in reducing these symptoms. Applying these lifestyle changes holds the key to reduce the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms.
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