Stomach acids break down the food we eat for digestion, and they also help the body absorb nutrients. The acid also eliminates bacteria in the stomach to prevent infection. However, when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus – which is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach – it can cause a burning sensation in the chest. This is called heartburn.
This backup of stomach acid is referred to as acid reflux. This occurs when the sphincter at the base of the esophagus functions improperly and opens at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to flow backwards and up into the esophagus.
When it is functioning normally, this sphincter opens to allow food to enter the stomach. It then stays closed to keep acid and food in the stomach where it belongs.
Remedies for Limiting Heartburn and Acid Reflux
There are a number of different ways in which you can reduce and potentially eliminate heartburn and acid reflux, including the following:
Diet and Lifestyle
Being overweight and sedentary can contribute to heartburn – in which case losing weight could greatly help to ease your heartburn symptoms. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising will help to reduce reflux.
It is also a good idea to limit spicy, fatty, or acidic foods if you have a tendency to get heartburn. Limiting alcohol consumption and acidic drinks will also help to treat your heartburn naturally.
Heartburn is often experienced at bedtime. Lying down soon after eating can cause pressure on the sphincter, because your body is made to naturally use gravity to help pull food downward through the esophagus and into the stomach.
Therefore, do not lie down for at least 2 or 3 hours after eating. Smaller meals will also help to avoid heartburn and acid reflux.
The position in which you sleep will also make a difference. When you lie down to go to bed, maintain a somewhat upright position. Raise the head of the bed by 6 or 8 inches, or use a sleeping wedge under your pillow to keep your head and torso slightly elevated.
Antacids and Medications
Occasional heartburn can be treated with antacids. Over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums or Rolaids, neutralize stomach acid. You can also take stronger remedies such as Pepcid or Tagamet.
However, speak to a gastroenterologist if your symptoms persist or don’t respond to antacids. Heartburn that persists may be connected to heart disease. Your doctor will identify the source of discomfort and advise you accordingly.
If the doctor determines that the pain is related to acid reflux, then they may prescribe heavier medications designed to reduce the stomach’s acid production – including proton pump inhibitors. Also, reducing stomach acid can be achieved with medications that cause the stomach to empty more quickly. These types of medications are generally prescribed and aren’t purchased as over-the-counter drugs.
What Is GERD?
If heartburn symptoms occur twice a week or more, then you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Speak with your doctor about extreme symptoms.
However, GERD doesn’t always exhibit with heartburn. Instead of the burning sensation, symptoms might include a dry cough, sore throat in the mornings, or trouble swallowing. Adults and children alike can have GERD.
In severe cases of acid reflux, surgery is an option. A surgeon will repair the sphincter located at the base of the esophagus, where it connects to the stomach. The surgery is minimally invasive, since it is done by laparoscope.
Heartburn Treatment in Austin
If you’re experiencing heartburn two or more times a week, seek medical attention. Austin Gastroenterology welcomes new patients at any of our convenient locations across the area.