Abuja - We’ve all had that familiar feeling of unease in our stomachs after a large meal, too many sweets, or that delicious curry we can’t pass up on . . . or, like many people, simply for no reason at all!
Whether you are a chronic sufferer, or just get the pang of heartburn on the odd occasion, there are easy and effective ways to cope with the situation.
What is heartburn?
But first, what exactly is heartburn, and what causes it?
Once you've swallowed a bite of food, it travels through the oesophagus to the stomach. A valve-like muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter opens to let the food in.
Once the food has entered the stomach it closes again to prevent stomach acids from moving up into the oesophagus, according to The Doctor's book of home remedies.
Sometimes, however, the sphincter doesn’t close properly after the food has passed through it, causing the stomach acids that digest our food to flow back into the oesophagus.
This tends to occur when the stomach is too full, and when too much pressure is exerted in or onto the stomach area.
The following are some factors that can add to the problem of indigestion:
The more the stomach is stretched by a large intake of food, the greater the chance of reflux into the oesophagus. Eating greasy foods increases the chances of heartburn as fatty food takes longer to digest.
Foods that prevent the sphincter from working effectively include chocolate and peppermint, and coffee, fruit juice and alcohol are drinks to avoid.
When one is overweight, the fat around the abdomen increases the pressure on the stomach. This could cause the contents of the stomach to be pushed up into the oesophagus.
Hormone changes during pregnancy cause the oesophageal sphincter to relax. Also, because the womb expands when pregnant, it places further pressure on the abdomen which – as in the case of being overweight – causes pressure on the stomach. Both these reasons could cause considerable reflux problems.
Constipation increases the chance of acid reflux through the built-up pressure inside the abdomen. If you can’t "go", your bowel is usually fuller, which, in turn, enlarges the abdomen.
The following 10 simple tips from The Doctor's book of home remedies are sure to put out the fire in your gut.
1. Go easy on the caffeine. Coffee, tea and fizzy drinks are a no-no and they can build up unnecessary acids in your stomach, which could irritate your already inflamed oesophagus.
2. Keep your breathing space clean. Your smoke or that of people around you could also have a negative effect on your digestion. It relaxes the oesophageal sphincter and allows for reflux to happen more easily.
3. Keep your waistline in check. Gaining weight around your waist is not ideal if you’re a heartburn sufferer. It increases the pressure in your stomach area, and makes reflux worse.
4. Don’t wear anything too tight around the waist. If you are familiar with the reaction if you squeeze a tube of toothpaste too hard, you’ll understand that wearing anything too tight around your waist could "make your insides want to spill over" as well.
5. If you’re lifting objects off the floor, bend at the knees. If your job involves lifting things a lot, be sure to bend at your knees and not to double-up using your stomach. All this compression forces the acid upward, causing heartburn.
6. Your medicine cabinet may be the culprit. Some painkillers such as Aspirin, anti-depressants and other prescription meds could cause acid reflux.
7. Skip the spicy foods. Yes, this means no extra-hot curries, no Tabasco, no chilli sauces either. These cause even more acid during digestion, forcing the sphincter to work twice as hard to keep the acid down.
8. Elevate the head of your bed. Lying flat is the most common reaction when one isn’t feeling too well, but this could just aggravate the problem. It can force the stomach acids back up the gullet. By elevating the head of your bed about 10-15 centimetres, the acid will be kept down.
9. Try not to be too stressed. Taking life a little easier definitely has its perks here. Stress causes an increase in acid production in the stomach, which could lead to acid reflux.
10. Antacids DO help. An over-the-counter antacid should bring fast relief from occasional heartburn. So it won't hurt to stock up on them.
When to see a doctor
Visit the doctor if you experience heartburn or indigestion more than twice a week, or if your symptoms are severe. Your doctor will decide whether to do further tests or a gastroscopy, and if stronger medication is needed. If you experience any trouble swallowing, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.