Heartburn is also referred to as acid indigestion. It’s often a symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux or GERD.
Heartburn happens when acid and other things from your stomach build up into your esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that food goes through as it moves from your mouth to your stomach. The muscle located between the stomach and esophagus may be weak or relax at the wrong times.
There are over-the-counter medicines to treat heartburn like Zantac, but people don’t want to use these products as much as they did at one point.
For one, Zantac has been linked to an increased risk of developing cancer. The other popular antacid medicines can have their own side effects.
For many people, it may be better to deal with the root of the problem causing the acid indigestion, as opposed to trying to mask the symptoms.
What Causes GERD?
Since heartburn is primarily a symptom of GERD or acid reflux, if you can understand more about what GERD is, it may help point you in the right direction regarding your treatment.
Heartburn stemming from GERD or similar conditions usually feels like a burning sensation at the center of your chest, which is the area behind your breastbone.
It can also affect your throat and neck.
You may have symptoms like a sour, bitter taste in your mouth. Heartburn can last a few minutes up to several hours.
GERD, specifically is acid reflux can also cause symptoms like problems swallowing and the feeling of a lump in your throat.
GERD is caused by ongoing acid reflux.
Risk factors for GERD include a hiatal hernia, pregnancy, obesity, and delayed stomach emptying. Scleroderma and other connective tissue disorders can also increase the risk of developing GERD.
Things that can worsen GERD or acid reflux include eating big meals late at night, having triggering foods such as fried or fatty food, drinking things like coffee or alcohol, and taking medicines like aspirin.
Chronic inflammation in your esophagus over time can lead to complications like an ulcer. Stomach acid can erode the tissue in the esophagus, causing an open sore, which is an ulcer. These ulcers can cause bleeding and pain.
Acid damage can lead to pre-cancerous damage in the tissue lining of the lower esophagus and can cause scar tissue to narrow the food pathway which makes swallowing more difficult.
How Are GERD and Similar Conditions Diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD, your doctor might do a variety of tests to confirm a diagnosis.
For example, your doctor could do an upper endoscopy using a thin tube and a light with a camera that goes down your throat. This will allow them to see your esophagus and stomach.
Other tests include X-rays of the upper digestive system and something called an ambulatory pH probe test.
While you should first and foremost listen to your doctor’s instructions, if you have acid reflux or GERD, there are certain lifestyle changes and things you can do without medication that may help relieve symptoms.
- Keep a food journal so that you can begin to identify the foods that trigger irritation and acid reflux for you. Some of the common ones were mentioned above and include alcohol, coffee, tomato, fatty foods, spicy foods, and mint.
- Try to have ginger on a regular basis. You can have ginger tea, add ginger to your recipes, or you can use it in fresh juices. Ginger is helpful for nausea and vomiting, which are symptoms that can occur along with heartburn and acid reflux.
- Eat dinner earlier in the evening before you go to bed. Try to give yourself at least three hours between eating and going to bed, but if possible, even longer.
- There are different types of herbal tea that can reduce acid reflux symptoms including chamomile, and licorice tea. Fennel and green teas can also help symptoms.
- Maintaining a healthy weight might help with the symptoms. When you have excess weight in your abdominal area, it puts more pressure on your stomach which can cause stomach acid to move into your esophagus.
Finally, there’s evidence that a low-carb diet can help acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.
Scientists are starting to theorize that undigested carbs might cause bacterial overgrowth. Too many undigested carbs in your digestive system can also make you feel bloated and gassy.
There have been a few small studies supporting the idea that eating a low-carb diet could reduce symptoms of reflux.