If you frequently suffer from heartburn you’ll know how debilitating and painful it can be, especially if you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep at the time. But you may not know that there are several easy ways of overcoming it and preventing its recurrence.
In this article you’re going to learn about the various causes of it, how it can be avoided by simply changing a few habits, and how you can get rid of it quickly and with minimum fuss if it does strike (without resorting to questionable drugs or over-the-counter medications that often have unwanted side effects).
Whatever the immediate causes of heartburn may be, and there are several, the one distinguishing feature of this complaint, compared to most other complaints or illnesses, is that it is nearly always a voluntary complaint. That is, it is brought on usually by the sufferer’s own activities immediately before the attack.
Let’s consider what’s involved for a moment. Your whole body in general, and your digestive system in particular, is a miracle of nature. It takes the food you eat, in all its forms, and processes it, often under very difficult circumstances. It digests it, removing waste material, and sends the rest of it on its way via your blood stream. It feeds your muscles, your brain and all your other vital organs.
But if you make things a little too difficult for it, then it will complain in the form of heartburn, or acid reflux. And be assured you will most definitely know about it. It can cause so much pain that the sufferer sometimes thinks he is having a heart attack.
So give your digestive system a little more care and consideration and you’ll have little to fear. In order to do this, we’ll take a brief look at what happens in there to cause this most unpleasant pain.
One of the functions of the stomach is to break down the food we eat in preparation for digestion. It does this with the aid of certain naturally produced acids, including the highly corrosive hydrochloric acid. This is only possible because the stomach has a protective lining that prevents these digestive juices, mainly acids, from digesting the stomach itself.
All well and good as long as everything stays where it is supposed to be. But if for some reason stomach acid escapes through the little flap, which is all that separates the stomach from the oesophagus (the tube that connects your stomach with your mouth) then it attacks the walls of the oesophagus, which have no protective lining.
If you’re a sufferer then the first thing you have to do is examine your activities before each attack to see if you can prevent this from ever happening again. The activity that causes most attacks is eating too quickly. Interrupting your meal to carry out some activity, especially one involving some degree of physical effort, is another main cause.
Stress and failure to relax while eating, mixing foods that “fight”, such as fries and dairy products, e.g. milk, eating cold foods straight out of the refrigerator before they can revert to room temperature, and drinking hot drinks without waiting for them to cool to a temperature more in line with that of your body. All these things can also cause heartburn.
Lying down too soon after a meal can also set it off, as can simply eating over-sized meals. But all this advice isn’t of any immediate use to you if you are right now suffering from an attack of heartburn. So let’s have a quick look at what you can do to see it on its way when it does strike.
The first thing is not to lie flat. That will only make it easier for the acid escaping into your oesophagus to continue to do so and prolong the pain. Sit upright. That will help keep the acid where it belongs and cause it to retreat from your oesophagus back into your stomach.
If you are about to go to bed, see if you can raise the head of the bed by five or six inches, to assist in forcing the acid back into your stomach. Putting a couple of extra pillows on the bed unfortunately will not help.
There are certain foods to avoid at this stage. These are mainly coffee, tea, cola and other fizzy drinks, chocolate, fatty foods and alcohol. Loosening your belt can bring almost immediate relief as constriction of the stomach often leads to acid reflux and an attack of heartburn. Avoid taking prescription drugs if possible, as they can easily make an attack worse, as can some anti depressants and sedatives.
There are one or two herbal remedies with a good track record of combating heartburn. The first one is ginger root, preferably in capsule form, available from drug stores. It seems the ginger absorbs the acid causing the pain, and also helps calm the nerves.
The second herbal remedy is to take a teaspoonful of cider vinegar in half a glass of water. If you suffer heartburn during a meal then take this mixture by sipping it regularly throughout the meal. Strange, since cider vinegar is also acidic, but it does work. If you don’t have any cider vinegar then plain water helps bring some relief.
If, in spite of the pain, you can relax and breathe deeply through the nose, try pressing the two points four finger widths below the kneecap and one finger width to the outside of the shinbone. It’s where a muscle flexes when you move your foot up and down. Hold this for one minute, and repeat, if necessary, a few minutes later. That relieves all stomach disorders and fatigue. Strange, but true.
Dealing with a persistent heartburn problem, then, is a two pronged strategy – prevention and cure. Although at the time the pain makes you feel helpless, it’s important to remember that it’s not difficult to get rid of heartburn and acid reflux if you just have the right information and the will to take action.