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How To Treat Heartburn And Acid Reflux

How To Treat Yourself Or Your Child

Kellie Perez, NP Profile Photo

Written by Kellie Perez, NP on July 7, 2021

Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, is a symptom of acid reflux. Here are some of the causes and symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux as well as treatments for both yourself or your child.

What Are Heartburn and Acid Reflux?

Heartburn is usually described as a burning sensation in your chest, just behind your breastbone, that tends to also cause a bitter taste in your throat or mouth. In general, the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux worsen after a large meal or when you are lying down.

Although most heartburn and acid reflux can be treated at home, if you experience very frequent heartburn or acid reflux or have difficulty eating and swallowing, you may have a more serious medical condition that requires professional attention.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. Oftentimes, when you or your child experiences acid reflux, you will also experience heartburn. Other symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Sore throat
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Warm or acidic taste in the throat
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing

Causes

When contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, come back up into the esophagus after swallowing, heartburn occurs. Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.

The part of your esophagus that connects to your stomach is called the lower esophageal sphincter. Whenever you swallow normally, the sphincter relaxes momentarily to allow food and drinks to flow into your stomach. After the food or liquid enters your stomach, the sphincter usually tightens again.

However, if your sphincter is weakened or malfunctioning, some of the contents of the stomach leak back into the esophagus. When stomach acid enters the esophagus and irritates the tissue, acid reflux occurs. Heartburn is one symptom of acid reflux. It is called heartburn because the esophagus lies just behind the heart where the burning sensation is felt.

Do Any Foods or Activities Worsen Heartburn?

Yes, some foods and activities may worsen heartburn for some people. Although there are different triggers for heartburn in different people, some foods that tend to cause heartburn include:

  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Spicy foods
  • Onion
  • Tomato products
  • Citrus products
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate
  • Large, fatty meals
  • Coffee

In terms of activities, smoking, being overweight, lying down after eating, and certain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen can all cause heartburn.

What Causes Heartburn and Acid Reflux in Kids?

Although heartburn is much more common in adults than in kids, children can experience heartburn. Usually, heartburn in infants and young children is a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or GERD.

GER is a condition in which stomach acid comes back up into the esophagus and can lead to heartburn. GERD is a more serious form of GER wherein the baby’s spit-up is stronger and repetitive which can make feeding uncomfortable.

Very young children usually experience heartburn because their digestive tract has not fully matured. Older children tend to experience heartburn due to being overweight, inhaling second-hand smoke, and eating trigger foods. Certain neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy also place children at increased risk of heartburn.

When Should I See a Doctor?

It is common to experience heartburn or acid reflux occasionally, but if you experience either more than twice a week or are unable to treat your heartburn at home, consider consulting your doctor because you might have a more serious condition.

Some symptoms to watch out for when deciding whether or not to contact your doctor include:

  • Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
  • Dark or bloody stool
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in your back or shoulders
  • Sweating during chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness

Treatments

Although both heartburn and acid reflux are uncomfortable, luckily they can both be treated at home in most cases. This section will provide you with several treatment options for heartburn and acid reflux.

Medications

There are several over-the-counter medications that can help relieve the painful symptoms of heartburn.

There are three main categories of over-the-counter heartburn medications including:

  • Antacids: This type of medication helps neutralize stomach acid. Antacids provide quick relief for occasional symptoms of heartburn. However, if your esophagus is damaged by stomach acid, they will not be able to do anything to heal your esophagus. If your child is experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, make sure to buy an antacid made specifically for kids.
  • H-2-Receptor Antagonists (H2RAs): This type of medication works by reducing stomach acid production. Although they are not as fast-acting as antacids, they can provide more long-term relief.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors: Much like H2RAs, proton pump inhibitors also work by reducing stomach acid production.

While these medications are effective at treating heartburn, they also have side effects. Antacids sometimes cause constipation or diarrhea. If you are already taking other medications, make sure you talk to your doctor before taking any of these medications.

Adjust Your Posture

It can be helpful to adjust your posture when you are experiencing heartburn or acid reflux. If you are lying down or sitting, try standing up straight and walking around. Standing up straight puts less pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter which may ease the symptoms of these conditions.

Elevate Your Upper Body

Alongside standing up and walking around, it can be beneficial to elevate your upper body at bedtime if you are experiencing heartburn. Although your instinct might just be to elevate your head, it is important to elevate your entire body from the waist up. Certain devices such as a wedge pillow or an adjustable bed make this sleeping position easier.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

If you know that certain foods trigger your heartburn or acid reflux, stay away from them or cut them out of your diet completely. While there are some foods and drinks that you may need to avoid, others can help combat the symptoms of these painful conditions.

You can try mixing baking soda with water to ease the symptoms of heartburn. Baking soda can neutralize stomach acid, much like antacids. If you want to try this remedy, simply mix a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water and stir. It is beneficial to drink this, and all liquids, slowly when you are experiencing heartburn.

Another dietary remedy you can try is adding ginger to your foods or drinks. Ginger may help relieve the symptoms of several ailments, including nausea and heartburn. One of the easiest ways to consume ginger is by making ginger tea. In order to do so, you need to steep raw ginger root, dried ginger root, or pre-made ginger tea bags in boiling water.

Pay Attention to Your Eating Habits

Instead of eating three large meals a day, eating smaller, intermittent meals may help some of the symptoms of acid reflux. You can also try to avoid meals late at night. The later you eat, the more likely you are to lie down soon after eating.

Lying down can trigger acid reflux and make the symptoms worse. Also, try to eat as slowly as possible. In some instances, eating too quickly can lead to both acid reflux and heartburn.

Chew Gum

Although it may seem unrelated, chewing gum can help relieve the symptoms of heartburn for you or your child. The act of chewing gum stimulates saliva production and swallowing. It is thought that both of these dilute stomach acid and help to clear it from your esophagus.

Wear Loose Clothing

When you wear loose clothing, you compress your stomach. This compression can trigger an episode of heartburn. If you experience heartburn while wearing particularly tight clothing, try loosening your belt, pants, or dress to take the pressure off your stomach.

Maintain A Healthy Weight

Much like tight clothing, excessive weight can also apply pressure to your abdomen. This pushes up your stomach and can cause acid to back up in your esophagus.

Stay Away from Cigarettes and Smoke

Smoking can contribute to heartburn, among other negative health effects. For this reason, if you experience heartburn, stay away from cigarettes and second-hand smoke.

Can Acid Reflux and Heartburn Be Cured?

For the most part, acid reflux and heartburn can be relieved or cured by making some of the lifestyle changes described above, such as maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding trigger foods. If those changes do not help, over-the-counter medication or prescription drugs can be used to ease the symptoms.

However, in some extreme cases, a final step can be taken to cure the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. This step involves a surgery called fundoplication wherein a surgeon wraps part of the stomach around the esophagus. This surgery increases pressure on the lower esophagus which keeps acid from backing up.

Conclusion

Acid reflux is a painful condition where stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and irritates the tissue. Heartburn is a painful symptom of acid reflux that causes a burning sensation in the chest and a sour taste in the throat. Although both of these are uncomfortable, there are several at-home treatments and medications you can try to ease the symptoms.



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