Heart burns also known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common clinical problem, affecting millions of people worldwide. It is the most common gastrointestinal disorders, which exhibits symptoms like burning sensation in chest and throat, regurgitation, epigastric pain or discomfort, dysphagia, belching, nausea, and bloating. Even though its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. But often it can resemble few symptoms similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease.
Food when taken in, it passes through the esophagus before reaching the stomach. This tubular structure is guarded by a valve made up of a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. It’s located where the esophagus meets the stomach. This sphincter, normally closes soon after food passes through it so that it prevents contents in the stomach to flow up back into the esophagus or it lets you belch and closes immediately. But if the sphincter remains open even after passing down the food or doesn’t close tightly enough, then the stomach acids can seep into the esophagus and cause irritation to linings of the esophagus and lead to burning sensations.
What are the Symptoms?
Most predominant symptom includes a burning pain or discomfort that may move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat, sometimes accompanied by bitter taste in mouth. This sensation may get worse while you bend over or while lying down. Other symptoms include bloating, frequent burping and belching, difficulty in swallowing food or a sensation of food being stuck in throat, nausea, dry cough, hoarseness or even chronic sore throat.
What Causes the Stomach Contents to Back Flow?
Under normal conditions, the environment inside the stomach is acidic in nature. Stomach acid has a pH between 1 and 2, which makes it quite acidic and is largely due to hydrochloric acid (HCl) along with other components like potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). Heartburns occur when this acid content backflows into the esophagus. One common cause of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia. This is an anatomical abnormality in which some part of the upper stomach bulges up into your chest, along with the lower esophageal sphincter through an opening in your diaphragm, the muscle that separates the two areas.
Other common causes includes poor eating habits like eating large meals, erratic meal timings or having late night dinners, excessive intake of spicy, fried and junk foods, high consumption of caffeinated drinks and carbonated drinks, smoking and alcohol over use, being overweight or obese, stress and anxiety, low physical activity levels, bed time snacking, going to bed soon after a heavy meal, prolonged use of certain medications or other health conditions like being pregnant, aging or fasting.
How to Relieve Yourself from Acid Reflux?
Fortunately, heartburns or acid refluxes can be very well managed by diet. A few lifestyle modifications are worth trying for controlling gastroesophageal reflux. The most effective ways are to avoid foods and beverages that triggers the reflux. You may identify the specific food items that may trigger the symptoms by keeping a track of your diet, by noting down the foods and drinks and seeing how you feel after an hour. If the diet has bothered you, then the best way to relieve the symptoms is to keep away from those triggers. Most commonly seen triggers include spicy, oily and fried foods, citrus fruits and drinks, pickles, caffeinated beverages, soft drinks and alcohol. Smoking is also one among the major trigger factors.
Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and keeping yourself well hydrated is also very important in the management of this health condition. Eat slowly to improve your digestion. This may reduce the amount of stress and pressure on your stomach. Avoid long gaps between the meals. Also, it is recommended to finish your dinner at least 2 hours before your bed time. Avoid late night heavy meals. We you are either sitting or standing, the gravity alone can help to keep the acidic contents in the stomach and prevent reflux to a greater extend.
Maintain a proper sleeping pattern. Refrain from going to bed soon after having food. Try to sleep on an incline. Raise the head of your bed by 4 to 6 inches. Gravity will keep the acid in your stomach. Do not use big pillows as that may lead to neck and back strain, instead place some blocks under the head end of your bed to raise it at least 4 inches to 6 inches. Also try sleeping on a chair during your daytime naps.
Be physically active. If you are overweight or obsess, losing weight may reduce some of the pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, keeping stomach acid from leaking through. Moderate intensity workouts are recommended to shed the extra pounds but avoid heavy lifting. Weight training and exercises that involve intense activity for abdominal muscles should be avoided.
At times, certain medications can also trigger Acid Reflux. So, while getting your prescription for any other ailments, ask your doctor whether any medication could be triggering your heartburn or other symptoms of acid reflux disease.
Home Remedies for Acid Reflux
- Jaaja Saktu (coarsely ground meal made of powdered puffed rice)
Puffed rice – 1 tbsp
Sugar – 1 tsp
Water – 1 cup
Mix all the ingredients and cook. Can be consumed once the meal cools to room temperature.
- Yashtimadhu Ksheerapaka (milk decoction prepared with licorice)
Licorice powder – 1 tsp
Milk – 150ml
Water – 300ml
Add licorice powder to water and milk and mix well. Boil on low flame till the decoction is reduced to 150ml (the quantity of milk). Allow to cool and consume before food.
- Fresh juice of Adhatoda (Justicia adhatoda) leaves and Amla (Emblica officinalis) with honey can help to relief symptoms
- Coriander infusion water – soak 1 tsp of coriander seed in 1cup water and leave it overnight. Next day, filter the water and add sugar. This infusion reduces heartburn symptoms
See your doctor if your symptoms occur more than twice a week or are severe.