Heartburn Symptoms

Acid Reflux Solution Kit

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Reflux relief using 3 common grocery store items.

There’s nothing funny to rush to the ER only to be sent home because you burped too much. You were sure you were about to fall limp from acute chest pain, but you didn’t think that an over-the-counter antacid could have saved you from the embarrassing trip to the ER.

Whoever said “when you are in doubt, don’t,” must have missed the emergency scenario.  In the case of sharp pains in the chest, you can’t take chances.  Getting red in the face is a small price to pay for being overly cautious.

When stomach acid is pushed back (refluxes) into the esophagus (where there are no protective cells to prevent inflammation to the lining), heartburn occurs.  As the name implies, the patient could suffer from burning pain in the chest, emanating from behind the breastbone.  The spasm or sharp pain could be brief, intermittent, or prolonged as in a few hours.

How do you know it is heartburn and not heart attack?  A person with heartburn additionally suffers from:

    • Trouble with swallowing.  The person gets the feeling that food is stuck in the windpipe;
    • Waterbrash, or getting a sour taste after burping;
    • Too much burping;
    • Aggravated pain when lying on the back or bending over;
    • Coughing, sore throat, or hoarseness when the acid reflux reaches the larynx.  Apart from the obvious discomfort it presents, stomach contents that are regurgitated all the way up may block nasal passages.

Heartburn symptoms get worse by lying on the back after heavy meals.  Sitting upright for at least 30 minutes after every meal ensures that the stomach contents (as well as the digestive acids) remain in the stomach.

Although heartburn is not as serious as heart attack, prolonged exposure of the esophagus to stomach acids could irritate its lining and lead to ulcer.  Over time, the cells of the esophageal lining may become altered, eventually leading to cancer.

This is especially true when heartburn is itself a symptom, and not just a condition.  While it is true that heartburn is caused by acid reflux, it usually goes away when preventive measures have been taken to keep acid in the stomach.  But when acid reflux occurs regularly (which may or may not manifest in heartburn), it could already be Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).  This is where ulcers, esophageal cancer, and a variety of other digestive discomforts come in.

In a regular heartburn, some foods and drugs trigger increased stomach acid production.  They should be consumed in small amounts, or not at all (in case of GERD):

  • Alcohol;
  • Caffeinated drinks;
  • Carbonated beverages;
  • Acidic juices and fruits;
  • Chocolate;
  • Aspirin and ibuprofen.

Other foods and habits contribute to the weakening of the circular muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus and the top of the stomach.  The main culprits would be smoking, and eating fatty foods.  No wonder, a lot of obese people are more susceptible to heartburn than leaner individuals.

While there are over-the-counter medications available to treat heartburn (which is best consulted with your doctor), there are painless ways to keep it from recurring:

  • Eat smaller but more frequent meals.  Grazing five times a day may also help you lose extra pounds as the body is tricked into not hoarding glucose;
  • Avoid snacking before bedtime (and banish heavy meals altogether);
  • Quit drinking and smoking;
  • Minimize caffeine, aspirin and ibuprofen;
  • Keep your upper body elevated when lying down to allow gravity to hold down stomach acid.

When you’ve changed your approach to manage heartburn, but you can’t shake off that sour after taste, that may altogether be GERD. Or when you’ve taken antacids, and the chest pain won’t go away, that may altogether be heart problems.  In any case, a “better safe than sorry” trip to the emergency room could save your life.