Health – Help for heartburn

With all the excesses of Christmas and the yummy food about, you may suffer from a bout of indigestion at some time or another.

The terms heartburn and indigestion are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different conditions. Indigestion refers to a collection of symptoms, while heartburn is just one type of indigestion. Heartburn is also referred to as acid reflux and is a painful burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid escapes into your oesophagus.

There are a number of different causes – some are obvious, such as helping yourself to those couple of extra barbecued sausages! Truth be told, if you eat too much of any food you can wind up with heartburn, particularly if you overindulge in fatty or spicy foods. Coffee, alcohol and stress can also take a toll.

Note, however, that it is important to take steps to ensure that any discomfort you are experiencing is heartburn, and not another health condition. You should seek urgent medical attention if you experience severe chest pain, especially if this is accompanied by shortness of breath, arm pain, dizziness, and/or cold sweats.

Treating heartburn is important because, over time, acid reflux can cause damage to your oesophagus. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to relieve the symptoms of heartburn. Sodium Alginate products (such as Gaviscon) form a raft-like gel layer over the top of your stomach contents and keep those contents in their place.

Antacids can be used to neutralise the stomach acid. Proton pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole) block stomach acid production allowing time for healing if your oesophagus has been damaged.

Lifestyle changes can also help you to avoid heartburn. These include losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight; stopping smoking (smoking relaxes the valve between your oesophagus and stomach, allowing the stomach contents into the oesophagus); avoiding foods that trigger your heartburn and limit your portion sizes; raise the head of your bed.

Occasional heartburn occurs in most people and does not require a visit to the doctor.

However, heartburn that occurs more than twice a week or is not helped by over-the-counter medications, may indicate a more serious form of heartburn which means you will need to speak with your doctor.

So enjoy this lovely summer weather, but perhaps take it easy on those sausages!