Taking antacids is considered the quickest way to get rid of heartburn. These over-the-counter medications help neutralize stomach acid. They are one of the first recommended treatments and may provide quick relief. However, antacid overuse can cause problems such as diarrhea or chronic kidney disease, especially if they contain aluminum and magnesium.
Other common ways to get rid of heartburn include:
- H2 receptor blockers: These medications work to reduce the amount of acid that is made in the stomach. While they do not work as quickly as antacids, they provide longer relief for up to 12 hours. Examples of these include Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac and Axid AR. Although most people have no problems taking them, long-term use can cause vitamin B12 deficiency leading to an increased risk of bone fractures.
- Proton pump inhibitors: This class of medications block acid production. They also help to heal any damage caused to the lining of the esophagus. They are much stronger than the H2 receptor blockers and include Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix and Zegerid. Excessive use of these medications can cause diarrhea and nausea, vitamin B12 deficiency and an increased risk of bone fractures.
- Baclofen: This medication works to strengthen the muscular valve present at the lower esophageal sphincter muscle. However, it may cause nausea and fatigue in some people.
- Surgical procedures: In rare cases, these are required to help with severe heartburn symptoms.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where acid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus causing irritation of the esophageal lining. The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscle that controls the passage of food and drink between the esophagus and the stomach. Sometimes, this muscle does not close completely allowing acid from the stomach to flow back into the throat or esophagus.
This abnormal condition is called gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux, and it can cause sore throat, hoarseness in the voice, and a very bad taste in the mouth. When these symptoms become recurrent and severe, it is called GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn (pain in the upper abdomen and chest that sometimes feels like you're having a heart attack).
Symptoms of heartburn include:
- Sensation of burning, pain or discomfort after eating located in the breastbone (middle of the lower chest underneath the sternum). The discomfort may increase when bending over or lying flat on your back.
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or feeling like food is stuck in the lower esophagus
- Cough or respiratory discomfort
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn may be a result of weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter located at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach, which acts as a barrier that blocks acidic contents of the stomach from flowing up into the esophagus.
Food passes down the esophagus and is digested by the acids produced by gastric glands in the inner lining of the stomach. Excess secretion of acids from the gastric glands can be triggered by:
- Spicy, fatty, heavy foods
- Acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, coffee, and chocolate
- Alcohol consumption
- Lack of sleep
- Medical conditions such as diabetes, hiatal hernia, peptic ulcers, connective tissue disorders, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, etc.
Conditions that can cause GERD include:
- Poor clearance of food or acid from the esophagus or throat
- Too much acid in the stomach
- Delayed stomach emptying
How is acid reflux diagnosed?
If you experience heartburn 2 or more times a week, you may be suffering from GERD and should consult a gastroenterologist. Tests used to diagnose the condition may include:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy: Involves inserting a small, flexible tube with a camera through the mouth to view the GI tract.
- Ambulatory acid probe test: A 24-hour probe study to monitor the esophageal pH
- Esophageal manometry: Done through a catheter that measures pressure and movement in the esophagus.
What home remedies kill heartburn?
Heartburn can be uncomfortable and be triggered by the foods you eat. If you suffer from heartburn, try the following home remedies:
- Lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle: Weight gain strains the muscular structure that supports the lower esophageal sphincter, reducing the pressure that holds the sphincter closed. This leads to reflux and heartburn. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and losing weight can help reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
- Don’t smoke: Nicotine relaxes the esophageal sphincter causing heartburn symptoms of heartburn. Quitting smoking may help reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Skip carbonated beverages: Carbonated beverages may make a person burp, which sends acid into the esophagus. Skip carbonated beverages and drink water instead of sparkling water to curb acid reflux symptoms.
- Eat sparingly and slowly: Patients can try grazing (eating smaller meals more frequently rather than three large meals daily) to reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Avoid certain foods: People with acid reflux may be instructed to eliminate some foods that are more likely than others to trigger reflux, including mint, fatty foods, spicy foods, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coffee, tea, chocolate and alcohol.
- Prop yourself up after eating: When standing or sitting, gravity alone helps keep acid in the stomach where it belongs. Finish eating at least three hours before going to bed. This means no naps after lunch and no late suppers or midnight snacks.
- Don't move too fast: Avoiding vigorous exercise or strenuous workouts for a couple of hours after eating can curb the symptoms of acid reflux.
- Check your medications: Some medications such as postmenopausal estrogen, tricyclic antidepressants and anti-inflammatory painkillers can relax the sphincter or irritate the esophagus. Identifying and curbing such medication use after discussing it with the doctor may help reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Adjust sleeping position: Most acid reflux occurs during sleep. To prevent nighttime attacks, patients may need to position their head above their abdomen. Elevate the head of the bed a minimum of 30 degrees. A firm foam-rubber wedge or bricks placed under the bedposts can help elevate the head of the bed. Avoid lying flat down, especially right after eating.
Here are 15 natural products that can relieve heartburn:
- Cool water: Taking sips of cold water may help alleviate the burning sensation.
- Cold milk: Calcium in milk helps maintain your body’s pH balance and aids in digestion.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk contains lactic acid that helps neutralize stomach acidity.
- Ice cream: Eating ice cream is a delicious and effective way to combat heartburn.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon works as a natural antacid and can soothe the stomach by improving digestion and absorption.
- Bananas: Bananas are extremely beneficial for the stomach lining because of its high fiber and potassium content, which helps with mucus production in the stomach, thus preventing excess acid formation.
- Ginger: Ginger helps reduce acids and decreases inflammation.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe an irritated esophagus.
- Basil leaves: Basil leaves stimulate the stomach to produce more mucus, which in turn helps relieve heartburn.
- Fennel seeds: Fennel contains anethole, an anti-inflammatory that can relax the stomach walls.
- Pineapple juice: Pineapple juice contains bromelain, an enzyme that helps control levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
- Almonds: Almonds are rich in natural oils, which soothe and neutralize acidity.
- Jaggery: Jaggery is a sugar substitute with high magnesium content, which helps balance stomach acidity
- Baking soda: A little baking soda mixed with water can reduce acid secretion in the stomach.
- Chewing gum: Gum stimulates the flow of saliva, which in turn keeps acid levels down and balances pH levels.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Poonam Sachdev. Heartburn. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/understanding-heartburn-basics
Heartburn. American Academy of Family Physicians: https://familydoctor.org/condition/heartburn/
Heartburn. Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview
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