Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Heartburn Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Heartburn Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention H eartburn or acid reflux is an extremely common problem. It occurs when the hydrochloric acid formed in the stomach flows back into the food pipe and sets its delicate lining aflame. The discomfort occurs primarily because the lining of the food pipe is not adequately protected against the harmful effects of the stomach acid. This causes inflammation and a burning sensation behind the breastbone. You may also suffer a sour acidic taste in the mouth and a sensation that the food is turning back. Sometimes, this may also be the root cause of persistent cough.


Heartburn Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
Attacks of heartburn are usually brief and relatively mild. If they are persistent, the lining of the food pipe may be permanently damaged and scarred.

The condition is called gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Doctors generally refer to it by using the acronym GERD.


CAUSES OF ACID REFLUX :

In the normal course, the contents of the stomach are kept from entering the food pipe by a natural valve mechanism. One part of this mechanism is the muscular ring at the lower end of the food pipe, the other the effect of the diaphragm on the food pipe as it passes through the narrow opening in the diaphragm. These together serve to provide an effective one-way valve.

Several factors however, can undo the valve. These factors include increased abdominal pressure due to obesity or pregnancy, a weakness in the diaphragm opening that allows a part of the stomach to slide into the chest, and a weak muscle tone in the ring at the lower end of food pipe. Certain foods and drinks, particularly fried food, high fat diet, pickles, spicy, acidic, tomato-based foods, carbonated soft drinks, alcohol, tea and coffee, and some medicines can also lead to mild attacks of heartburn. Tobacco is also a known culprit.


MANAGING HEARTBURN :

Stamping out the fire in the food pipe is easy, provided you know the rules: Put a stop to big meals : Eat small, frequent meals and never overfill your belly. A full belly conspires to put pressure on the diaphragm and lead to gastro-esophageal reflux. Stay up after a meal : Gravity has many wonderful uses, but it can also be quite fussy. If you stoop, bend over or lie down straight after a meal, it is simply asking for trouble. That’s like defying the gravitational force and still hoping that the hydrochloric acid will stay within the stomach. No way! Always sit upright or take a walk after a meal, and you will feel a lot more comfortable.


Eat supper on time :

Partake of your supper at least a good two to three hours before retiring to bed. If you lie down supine soon after a meal, the contents of a bulging stomach are very likely to spill over into your food pipe.


Sip plain water :

Rinse your food pipe frequently by taking small sips of water. This will wash it clean of the acid and lessen your troubles.

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Check your waistline :

Being overweight can disturb the valve at the lower end of food pipe. It sometimes pushes the stomach into the chest and disturbs all anatomical equations; a condition called hiatus hernia results. To avoid it, lose weight and cut yourself to size.


Wear comfortable clothes :

Keep your belt a wee bit loose, and never wear tight jeans or pants. Close-fitting clothes may be fashionable, but they mess up your insides. The diaphragm is unable to breathe and the acid spills on to the wrong side.


Count out the culprits :

Hot food, laced with chilli, peppers and their spicy cousins, may or may not ignite problems but citrus juice and tomato products almost always do. The bottom line, of course, is to avoid such foods that affect you adversely.


Go easy on caffeine :

Caffeine containing beverages—coffee, tea and colas—have the irritating habit of loosening the food pipe valve. Down a cup of tea or a cola a few more times than usual in a day, and you could feel the acid rise up behind your breastbone.


Quit tobacco :

Avoid tobacco, be it smoke or juice. Chewing tobacco is just as bad as smoking. It throws your food pipe sphincter out of gear and also, increases the acid production.


Alcohol is bad :

Swear off alcohol. It makes your food pipe valve tipsy and irritates an inflamed food pipe even more badly.


Sweet confection is for kids :

Spare yourself from chocolate and peppermint—they make the food pipe valve weak.


Check your medicine cabinet :

You may find the source of your grief lurking in there. A number of commonly prescribed medicines like anti-hypertensives such as amlodepine, asthma pills such as theophylline, heart medications, progesterone, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), antidepressants, sedatives, and antibiotics, particularly tetracycline and erythromycin, can initiate heartburn. When in doubt, check with your physician.


Take antacids :

An over-the- counter antacid such as Digene or Mucaine Gel will generally offer quick relief. Often, the liquid antacids prove more effective than the tablets. It is okay to use the antacids for a once-in-a-while attack of heartburn.


Raise the head end of your bed :

Use bed blocks and raise the head-side by four to six inches. This would elevate your upper body without folding you up in half, change the gravitational dynamics of the body and relieve you of reflux.


If symptoms do not ease, see the doctor :

In case heartburn continues to bother you for longer than two weeks, see a doctor, preferably a gastro-enterologist. Such symptoms must never be neglected. The doctor may advice you to undergo an endoscopy or barium swallow test. These investigations can help make a correct diagnosis. If self-measures do not suffice, you may be required to take a medicine that reduces the stomach’s acid production. These medicines include lansaprazole, omeprazole and ranitidine.Medicines that help hasten the emptying of the stomach such as mosapride and domperidone may also prove beneficial. A hiatus hernia may however call for surgery.
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