What is heartburn? Heartburn is a burning discomfort below your breastbone or upper belly, resulting from stomach acid. Mostly, people experience heartburn as a result of eating or drinking certain foods or drinks.
Heartburn may range from slightly irritating to extremely uncomfortable. The distressing symptoms of heartburn can last for two hours or more, depending on the underlying cause. And while it’s a common sign of acid reflux, Gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD), not everyone with acid reflux experiences heartburn.
What Causes Heartburn?
Foods that may trigger heartburn include:
- Fried and fatty meals (animal or vegetable)
- Acidic foods such as grapefruits, oranges, tomatoes, and spicy meals
- Beverages such as orange juice, coffee, and alcohol
Other causes of heartburn include:
- Being oversize or overweight
- Lack of sleep and stress raises stomach acid levels hence leading to heartburn
- Some medicines, including ibuprofen and aspirin
- Some medical conditions, such as a hiatus hernia
Causes of Heartburn During Pregnancy
Heartburn is common during pregnancy. There are a few factors that increase heartburn risk in pregnant women:
- During pregnancy, your body naturally produces progesterone, which helps maintain a healthy pregnancy. The hormone also acts as a muscle relaxer. As a result, it causes the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), resulting in acid reflux and hence heartburn.
- The continual uterus growth exerts pressure on both the mother’s stomach and LES, which makes stomach acid more likely to be pushed up into the esophagus. Consequently, heartburn is more common as fetal development progresses.
- Progesterone also slows down digestion. While this allows for the placenta to better absorb nutrients from the mother’s diet, it results in indigestion, which increases your chances of heartburn.
Symptoms of Heartburn
Heartburn signs and symptoms are more severe in pregnant women than in those who are not pregnant. These symptoms include:
- A burning sensation in the chest that occurs after eating and which may worsen at night
- Chest pain that worsens when bending over, lying down, or eating
- Bitter or acidic taste in the mouth
- Difficult when swallowing
There are several heartburn treatment options you can use to get quick heartburn relief. You can either use natural remedies or over the counter heartburn medication. You can also get rid of heartburn with lifestyle changes. Over the counter heartburn medicines(OTC) are grouped into three options;
- Antacids:This is a type of medication that neutralizes stomach acids. Example of such medicines includes Maalox, Tums, Mylanta and Rolaids. These medicines don’t heal underlying problems neither do they prevent future occurrence of heartburn.
- H-2 blockers:This medication works by blocking the receptor (h-2 blockers) which, in return, reduce the production of acid. They take long before they begin working; however, their relief takes longer compared to that of antacids. Some of the examples of h-2 blockers drugs you can get over the counter or through prescriptions include; cimetidine, nizatidine, famotidine(Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac).
- Proton pump inhibitors:These are medications that block the production of acid. Examples of such drugs include; Omeprazole and lansoprazole.
Note: Before taking these over the counter heartburn medicines, it is wise first to consult your doctor if you are taking other drugs or have an underlying chronic condition as there might be an interaction.
Heartburn Home Remedies
Apart from taking over the counter medicines, you can also use natural home remedies to get quick relief to your heartburn. Below are some of the best home remedies for heartburn that can help you get rid of your heartburn fast.
Combine baking soda with water
Baking soda is alkaline and safe for consumption, thus can be used to neutralize stomach acid. To make the concoction, add a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and stir. Drink the solution slowly as you should with everything you eat or drink to help manage your symptoms.
Chewing gum for 30 minutes after eating can help relieve your heartburn symptoms. How? Chewing gum increases saliva production and swallowing, which helps neutralize and clear stomach acid in your esophagus.
If you’re concerned about artificial sweeteners while pregnant, you can opt for sugarless gum. Additionally, some women may find that mint-flavored gum flares up their heartburn. If you fall into this category, choose non-mint gum.
Unlike other nuts such as cashews and walnuts, almonds are alkaline and have been shown to provide immediate relief for mild heartburn. However, since almonds have high-fat content, they can exacerbate acid reflux in some people, especially pregnant women. Generally, whether almonds benefit or worsen heartburns and acid refluxes will depend on an individual’s toleration level and how you consume them.
Papayas contain an enzyme called papain that helps reduce heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid. The fruit also has high water content, which helps improve your digestion. Poor digestion, as mentioned earlier, increases your risk of heartburn.
How to Prevent Heartburn
There are different ways on how to get rid of heartburn. By either avoiding trigger foods, lifestyle changes or eating foods that can help relieve heartburn symptoms.
Avoid trigger foods
Trigger foods are foods that cause heartburn. These include:
- High fat or fried foods
- Spicy or highly-seasoned foods
- Tomatoes and tomato-based sauces and products
- Onions and garlic
- Fruit juices or fruits that are acidic
- Carbonated drinks
- Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages
- Milk: while its true milk can temporarily stop heartburn, some nutrients in milk such as fat can stimulate the stomach to produce more acid making milk not to be a great remedy to treat your heartburn.
Change Your Eating Habits
Instead of three large meals a day, opt for several small meals throughout the day. And whether you’re eating out or at home, have your last meal at least three hours before retiring to bed. Additionally, eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly to help keep it alkaline. Lastly, sit up straight when eating to take the pressure off your stomach.
Reduce Your Carbonated Beverage Intake
Carbonated beverages cause you to belch more, which increases acid reflux symptoms, including heartburn. Some studies have also found that drinking carbonated water or cola, as opposed to plain water, temporarily weakens the lower esophagus sphincter.
Ensure the Head of Your Bed is Raised
Backward flow of stomach acid to your esophagus and throat at night is less likely when you sleep with your head and shoulders elevated about 6 inches. You can achieve this using blocks or bricks firmly secured under the bedposts under the head end of your bed.
The chemicals you inhale when you smoke can lead to indigestion and hence heartburn. The chemicals can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax. The LES is the ring of muscle that prevents stomach acid and contents from flowing backward into the esophagus. So when it’s not functioning normally, it makes it easier for stomach acid to travel up from your stomach, which is known as acid reflux.
Limit Coffee Intake
Various studies have shown that coffee temporarily weakens the LES, which either increases your risk of acid reflux or worsens acid reflux and heartburn. However, these effects or lack thereof vary from individual to individual. So if you establish coffee gives you heartburn, limit your intake or avoid it entirely.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight as those extra pounds put added pressure in your abdomen, which may lead to a condition known as hiatus hernia. Hiatus hernia, also referred to as hiatal hernia, occurs when part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm. As a result, stomach contents can reflux more easily into your esophagus, increasing your risk of heartburn.
Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, eating smaller portions of meals, and avoiding smoking, can help prevent heartburn. In the event you develop heartburn, over-the-counter medications like antacids can help relieve your symptoms. See your doctor if your symptoms persist despite making lifestyle changes and using OTC medicine.
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