What is Heartburn and How Can You Avoid It?

What is Heartburn and How Can You Avoid It?

We all know how painful and distressing heartburn can be, but what actually is it and how can you avoid it? This brief guide will explain the medical condition and give you some top tips to help you minimize risks.


The science


Technically referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, it is a common health problem. It occurs when acid from the stomach leaks and travels up into the gullet. Episodes of heartburn occur as a result of a failure of the lower oesophageal sphincter, which is a fancy name for a ring of muscle in the lower part of the oesophagus. This muscle should behave like a valve, opening to allow food and drink into the stomach and then closing to prevent the contents of the stomach leaking out. In cases of heartburn, this mechanism fails and acid escapes.


One of the most common symptoms is a burning sensation in the chest after eating. Many people also suffer acid reflux, which is an unpleasant taste in the mouth caused by acid. Some individuals experience pain and difficulty swallowing too.


For lots of people, heartburn is an occasional irritation. However, for others it’s a persistent issue. If this applies to you, it’s worth taking action.


Risk factors


There are a number of known risk factors for this medical condition. For example, people are more likely to suffer from it if they’re overweight or if they eat a high-fat diet. Pregnancy can also increase the risk.


In addition, certain medications may contribute to the symptoms. If you’re taking medications for other health problems, it’s worth speaking to your doctor to see if this could be having an impact on your heartburn.


Self-care techniques


There are a number of self-care options that may reduce your chances of suffering heartburn. For example, if you’re overweight, getting in shape could ease your symptoms. This is because losing weight reduces pressure on the stomach. Also, if you smoke, try to give up. Smoking is known to irritate the digestive system.


It’s also a good idea to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Large meals can trigger heartburn. In addition, try to ensure you have your evening meal three or four hours before you go to bed.


Bear in mind that some types of food and drink can lead to the heartburn too. For example, alcohol, coffee, tomatoes, chocolate and spicy food are all known to trigger symptoms. Altering your diet could therefore alleviate your heartburn.


If you tend to suffer at night, try raising the head of your bed by around 20cm using wooden blocks.


Other options


If these tactics don’t work, you might have to think about other heartburn remedies. There is plenty of advice and information available online if you’re stuck for ideas. Meanwhile, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications. In some cases, surgery is required.


By being proactive and seeking solutions to your heartburn, you stand to improve your quality of life dramatically. The worst thing you can do is simply accept this pain and discomfort as an unavoidable irritation.


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