Ever felt a burning sensation in your chest after eating? That's heartburn! Experienced occasionally, it is no cause for concern, but will warrant a trip to the doctor if it occurs frequently enough or happens in conjunction with other symptoms.

Also commonly referred to as acid reflux, heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest, hence its name. Typically, the pain is felt at night or after eating, worsening when bending over or lying down. It's time to talk to your doctor when your bouts with hearburn:

If accompanied by severe chest pressure or pain, pain in the jaw or arm or difficulty breathing.

  • Occur more than twice in a week.
  • Persist despite taking over-the-counter medication.
  • Lead to persistent vomiting or nausea.

What Causes Heartburn In The First Place?

Heartburn occurs when acids in the stomach back up into your esophagus. Normally, when food passes through the esophagus, a muscle band tightens at the bottom to prevent what you have consumed from backing up. However, if this muscle, the lower esophageal sphincter, weakens or relaxes abnormally, stomach acids flow right out and back into the esophagus, leading to heartburn.

Treating Heartburn

Keeping heartburn under control combines both the use of medication and home remedies and implementing lifestyle modifications. OTC medications typically used to provide heartburn relief, work by either neutralizing stomach acids (antacids) or reducing the amount of stomach acids present (H-2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors). If OTC medication doesn't work, you may need a prescription from your doctor.

Can't take a trip to the pharmacy? Fortunately, several items in your home can help relieve heartburn. These include:

  • Chewing Gum. It stimulates saliva production. Any stomach acid that has accumulated is quickly cleared away, easing heartburn symptoms.
  • Baking Soda. As a base, baking soda is capable of neutralizing stomach acids. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water to ease occasional heartburn.
  • Raw Almonds. As an alkaline-producing food, almonds can balance pH in the body by calming down your stomach to keep it from producing too much acid.
  • Licorice. Candy for heartburn? It's possible! Eating licorice lets you take advantage of its natural healing properties that can ease your stomach and provide comfort against heartburn. Try eating chewable licorice tablets before meals.
  • Aside from eating these food items to find relief, you should also be mindful of which types of food trigger your heartburn. For some people, the culprits are spicy food, fatty or fried food, tomato products, citrus products, chocolate, carbonate beverages and alcohol.
  • Lifestyle modifications that can help relieve heartburn include:
  • Maintain healthy weight. Extra pounds put pressure on the abdomen, pushing up the stomach, which causes stomach acids to back up into the esophagus.
  • Wear loose clothing. Tight-fitting clothes also put pressure on the abdomen as well as the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Avoid late meals. Wait at least three hours before lying down and going to bed.
  • Elevate upper half of body during sleep. Just adding pillows to raise the head is usually not as effective.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking reduces the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to properly function.

Heartburn And Dementia

Researchers have found that repeatedly taking proton pump inhibitors may raise the risk of dementia developing in senior adults. As the medication blocks stomach acid production, it messes up the stomach's natural ability to digest food and protect against ingested pathogens, leading to nutritional deficiencies and infections.

Those suffering from heartburn are advised to always take their medication according to their doctor's instructions while doctors are reminded not to overprescribe.

Photo: Practical Cures | Flickr

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