As the season of decadence, calories, and over-eating approaches I thought that it might be the perfect time to review some common conditions relating to your body’s digestive health, the differences between these conditions and how to prevent and treat them.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid splashes up from the stomach into the esophagus. According to WebMd near the entrance to your stomach is a valve that normally closes as soon as food passes through it. If this valve doesn’t close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus causing symptoms such as burning chest pain otherwise known as heartburn. If your acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, you may have acid reflux disease.
Risk factors that can cause acid reflux include:
- Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating a heavy meal and lying on your back or bending over at the waist
- Snacking close to bedtime
- Eating certain foods, such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
- Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea
- Being pregnant
- Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
Symptoms of acid reflux disease:
- Heartburn — a burning pain or discomfort that may move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat
- Regurgitation — a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth
- Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
- Dysphagia — a narrowing of your esophagus, which creates the sensation of food being stuck in your throat
- Hiccups that don’t let up
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. Heartburn is the symptom that you feel when you have acid reflux. Occasional heartburn isn’t dangerous, but chronic heartburn can indicate serious problems and can develop into gastro esophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD.
One in 10 Americans experiences heartburn symptoms at least once a week and up to 50% of pregnant women suffer from heartburn. The basic cause is when the valve at the entrance of the stomach doesn’t close all the way allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Other causes include too much food in the stomach (over-eating) or too much pressure on the stomach (usually from obesity or pregnancy.)
Foods that may trigger heartburn:
- Citrus fruits
- Caffeinated products
- Dishes high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable)
Stress also increases acid production and can cause heartburn as well as smoking.
In order to prevent and manage heartburn you may need to make some simple lifestyle and diet changes. Here are some suggestions from WebMD:
- Don’t go to bed with a full stomach- Eat meals at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down — this will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and acid levels a chance to decrease before you lay down.
- Don’t overeat- Decrease the size of portions at meal times or try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.
- Eat slowly- Take time to eat — don’t rush, try putting your fork down between bites.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Avoid heartburn triggers- Stay away from foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn symptoms. A good way to figure out what foods cause your heartburn symptoms is to keep a food diary.
- Shed some pounds- If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve heartburn symptoms.
- Stop smoking- Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to enter the esophagus.
- Avoid alcohol- If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, meditation, stretching, or deep breathing instead of drinking alcohol.
- Keep a diary or heartburn log- Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents.
Heartburn vs. GERD
If your heartburn or acid reflux symptoms are severe and chronic you may suffer from gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD is a severe or chronic acid reflux that can lead to complications, such as cancer.
Occasional heartburn and acid reflux is often treatable with over-the-counter medication or lifestyle modification. To make sure that you don’t have anything more severe such as GERD, reference below.
- Is your heartburn occurring more than twice a week?
- Has the pattern of your heartburn changed? Is it worse than it used to be?
- Do you wake up at night with heartburn?
- Have you been having occasional heartburn that is associated with difficulty swallowing?
- Do you continue to have heartburn symptoms even after taking non-prescription medication?
- Do you experience hoarseness or worsening of asthma after meals, lying down, or exercise, or asthma that occurs mainly at night?
- Are you experiencing unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite?
- Do your heartburn symptoms interfere with your lifestyle or daily activity?
- Are you in need of increasing doses of nonprescription medicine to control heartburn?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your heartburn may warrant attention from a medical professional. People with long-standing chronic heartburn are at greater risk for serious complications including stricture (narrowing) of the esophagus or a potentially precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus.