“That was such a great curry, but now I have heartburn left! Where do we keep the antacids?!” Is this happening to you?
Heartburn is horrible: the burning sensation behind your breastbone and acid creeping up the back of your throat. If you experience it often, it can even disturb your sleep and put you off your food completely.
Why is this happening to me?
Heartburn is really a symptom of something else: acid reflux. This happens when the ring of muscle that keeps food in your stomach relaxes when it shouldn’t, and allows acid from your stomach to go back up your throat. It’s this stomach acid that causes the sensation of heartburn – the thought of acid burning your throat is pretty grim!
So, why am I getting heartburn?
There are a few causes of heartburn and it helps to know which ones are likely to affect you.
- Eating very fatty meals
- Eating meals too close to bedtime
- Weakening of the ring of muscle (sphincter) with age
- Having too many fizzy or caffeinated drinks, as well as chocolate
Heartburn that occurs only once in a while is not a problem, but if you have to reach for antacids after every meal and during the night, it may be time to see your doctor.
Useful remedies for getting rid of heartburn
A teaspoon of bicarb. A teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in a medium glass of water can relieve you of that burning sensation. Baking soda helps because it’s a base substance with a pH higher than 7.0 – it neutralises stomach acid and stops the burn. Mix the soda and water, then drink it all down. Don’t do this more than 3 times in a 24 hour period, and only for a day or two at a time.
Buy some chewing gum. People with symptoms of chronic heartburn or GERD experienced relief when they chewed a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal, according to a study conducted by The Journal of Dental Research. Chewing gum stimulates your salivary glands, and more saliva dilutes and washes away built-up acid.
Don’t lie flat at night. Here’s how heartburn can interfere with your sleep: it gets worse at night! You’re lying down and it’s easier for stomach acid to back up into your oesophagus (the swallow-pipe in your throat) – thanks to gravity. Extra pillows won’t help as you can slide off them when you’re asleep. Rather put a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress to lift your head about 8cm. A full stomach makes the contents press harder against your lower oesophageal sphincter, so eat earlier, and don’t lie down within 4 hours after eating.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes – really! Pressure on your abdomen mean pressure on your oesophageal sphincter and, well, you know the rest.
- Smoking + alcohol = higher chance of heartburn
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Drink lots of water during the day
- Eat smaller meals so you aren’t putting pressure on your lower oesophageal sphincter
Don’t ignore the burn
If you’re battling with frequent attacks of heartburn, keep a diary for a week or two – note down what you ate, drank and the times it happened. Don’t ignore persistent heartburn! If left untreated, chronic acid reflux can narrow and scar your oesophagus, and could lead to oesophageal cancer.
Joanne Hart for HelloDoctor.com