Heartburn, reflux and dyspepsia refer to stomach pain or discomfort after eating. When we eat, the food goes down the oesophagus into the stomach, passing through a valve to keep it there to be digested. If the valve becomes slack, stomach contents can travel back into the oesophagus, causing a burning feeling in the chest and acidic taste in the mouth.
Sometimes heartburn is caused by the meal we have just eaten or the way we eat, especially if we eat quickly, rich or large meals. Sometimes the cause isn’t so simple with stress, medicines, pregnancy, hernias or being overweight as contributing factors.
If you suffer from mild heartburn infrequently, antacids (Mylanta) or alginates (Gaviscon) can offer relief from the burning by neutralising acid in the stomach or forming a raft on top of the contents. H2 antagonists (Ranitidine) and proton pump inhibitors (Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, Pantoprazole) reduce the amount of acid produced. They can offer effective relief, but it is important to have the underlying cause of heartburn investigated by your doctor.
Lifestyle changes may also help reduce bouts:
- Avoid rich, spicy and fatty foods. Alcohol, tomatoes, citrus, caffeine, chocolate and fizzy drinks are best skipped. Rather, eat smaller, high fibre meals often and not close to bedtime.
- Try to include foods containing digestive enzymes such as bromelain (pineapples) and papain (papayas), and probiotics to maintain a healthy gut flora.
- Relax at mealtimes, sit upright and chew your food well. Try not to overeat and avoid lying down or bending after eating.
- Reduce stress and relax. Quit smoking. Increase activity to 20-minutes a day. Avoid tight clothing.
- Some medicines can cause heartburn, including aspirin and anti-inflammatory medicines. Try taking these with food and lots of water, while upright. Talk to your doctor if you have pain on swallowing, unexplained weight loss, dark bowel motions, shortness of breath, sweating, chest, back or arm pain.