Acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion are common digestive disorders that affect millions of people in the U.S. Many people experience acid reflux or heartburn only occasionally, but for others it's a chronic condition that can cause serious health problems over time. Acid reflux has significant effects on daily lives of affected individuals, limiting physical activity, social activities, and productivity at work.
Whether you have recently received a new diagnosis of acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion or you've lived with these symptoms for a long time, if you're reading this, it's likely that you want to know what the best treatment and management approach is. Read on to explore natural and home remedies for heartburn you have probably not tried before.
Is it acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion?
First, let’s differentiate between the conditions. How do you know if your symptom is just a case of indigestion, heartburn or if it was acid reflux. Indigestion occurs when there is poor digestion due to insufficient stomach acid, or insufficient digestive enzymes to achieve proper digestion of food consumed. It may also happen when you eat a food you are intolerant to or from eating too much fried fast food. The pain with indigestion is mainly in the stomach area. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation thus causing a feeling of heartburn in the chest and oesophagus. Please note that any pain in the chest that radiates to the arms may be a sign of heart-related issue, be sure to see a doctor for proper assessment.
If you have been assessed and diagnosed to have acid reflux, there are over-the-counter medications available to treat these conditions. Some natural remedies can also be effective in providing symptom relief. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes and complications of acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion, as well as natural remedies and medications that can help manage these conditions.
Symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion
Symptoms of indigestion include early feeling of fullness when eating, frequent belching and burping, abdominal discomfort, bloating nausea. Whereas someone with heartburn or acid reflux may feel more of burning pain in the chest, throat irritation, acid taste in the mouth.
Causes of Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Indigestion
Acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion can occur due to a variety of factors, including:
• Diet: Certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, can trigger acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion
• Stress management: studies have shown that anxiety and emotional stress can increase acid production in the stomach thus contributing to acid reflux symptoms.
• Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing these conditions
• Hormonal changes: hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause the muscles that control the esophagus to relax, leading to acid reflux and heartburn. Some non-pregnant women also experience sufficient hormonal fluctuation during their monthly periods that cause the esophagus muscle to relax during specific period of the month.
• Smoking: Smoking can weaken the muscles that control the esophagus, making it easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus
• Hiatal hernia: A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. This can increase the risk of developing acid reflux and heartburn.
Complications of untreated heart burn and acid reflux.
If left untreated heartburn and acid reflux may progress to the full-blown condition called GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease, where symptoms occur more than twice per week. People with GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter i.e. closure between the oesophagus and the stomach becomes really weak allowing easy reflux of stomach content into the oesophagus. If this is left uncontrolled, it may lead to erosive damage to the esophagus or even cancer. Chronic GERD can also cause dental erosion when acid contents come back to the mouth and makes contact with the teeth. Patients can lose their enamel.
In addition, GERD is often associated with stomach infection (H. Pylori), stomach inflammation (gastritis) and stomach ulcers. So, its better to get it checked by the doctor for proper assessment.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Indigestion
There are many lifestyle and natural remedies that can help manage the symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion. These include:
• Dietary changes: Avoiding trigger foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, chocolate, mint, coffee, alcohol, carbonated sodas, and acidic food such as citrus, tomatoes, garlic, onions. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can also help. Eat slowly and take time to shew your food properly. Quit smoking.
• Food diary: keeping a food diary to take note of what you eat and how you feel afterwards can help you identify specific trigger foods so you can avoid them.
• Stress management: eliminating underlying stressful conditions such as regular exercises and getting plenty of rest. Deep belly breathing for about 10 minutes per day helps to relieve stress and to strengthen the oesophageal sphincter keeping stomach contents from backtracking into the oesophagus.
• Weight loss: in people who are overweight, losing weight can help reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion.
• Elevating the head of the bed: elevating the head of the bed by 6 to 8 inches can help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. Waiting 2-3 hours after last meal before going to sleep.
• Wear loose fitting clothes: avoid tight fitting clothes or belts which can put pressure on stomach pushing its contents back to the esophagus.
• Chewing gum: chewing gum 1 or 2 hours after eating can help increase saliva production, which can help neutralize stomach acid. Avoid minty gum. Opt for a fruity flavor instead.
• Herbal remedies: certain herbs, such as ginger, turmeric, fennel, and chamomile, can help reduce inflammation and soothe the digestive tract.
• Digestive aids: if you know that you are intolerant to lactose you can take digestive enzymes such as Lactaid to help in the digestion whenever eating lactose-containing food. There are other digestive aids that contains more enzymes like proteases and lipases, that help in digesting food.
Medications for Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Indigestion
While natural remedies can be effective in managing the symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion, medications may be necessary in some cases. The most common medications used to treat these conditions include:
• Antacids: Antacids, such as Tums and Gaviscon, available over the counter, can help neutralize stomach acid and provide quick relief from symptoms
• H2 blockers: H2 blockers, such as Pepcid and Zantac, and Tagamet can help reduce the production of stomach acid and provide longer-lasting relief from symptoms
• Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs, such as Nexium, Prevacid, Dexilant, Aciphex (also known as Pariet, can help block the production of stomach acid and provide long-term relief from symptoms.
While medications are helpful to relieve heart burn symptoms, they should only be used for a specified period and not used for more than 2 months continuously. If you are currently on a medication, speak to your doctor to see if you can attempt to go off the medication gradually while utilizing the lifestyle measures to avoid relapse of the condition.
Acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion are common digestive issues that can cause discomfort and pain. While natural remedies can be effective in managing the symptoms of these conditions, medications may be necessary in some cases and should be used for short term or as needed. By making dietary changes, losing weight, and using natural remedies and medications as needed, you can effectively manage the symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion and improve your overall digestive health. If you are experiencing frequent or severe symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn, or indigestion, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs. Always report to your health care provider, if you notice any new or worsening chest pain especially if it radiates to the arm to rule out any heart condition.
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