MAN with symptomatic acid reflux , suffering from acid reflux

Heartburn is common – most of us will have experienced its uncomfortable symptoms at somepoint. The good news is there are many things you can do to help reduce or manage your heartburn symptoms and relief is available.

Heartburn symptoms

Heartburn can be described as a burning feeling or sensation that occurs when stomach acid rises up
into your throat. It can be an uncomfortable or painful experience that usually happens after eating.

People may refer to heartburn by many different names – including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or acid reflux for short.

The term ‘acid reflux’ gives a useful description of what is going on when you’re experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms of heartburn:

  • During about of heartburn, acid is escaping (refluxing) from your stomach and flows back up into your oesophagus (the tube that connects your throat and stomach)
  • The oesophagus is not designed to withstand this strong stomach acid, and the refluxing acid starts to cause the discomfort and pain associated with heartburn
  • Bending over or lying down can allow the stomach acid to flow further up your oesophagus and typically makes heartburn feel worse
  • Sometimes heartburn is accompanied by ‘regurgitation’ which is where stomach acid flows all the way back up your oesophagus and reaches your mouth leaving a sour taste.

What causes heartburn?

Occasional heartburn usually occurs after eating a meal. However, there are other risk factors and triggers that may mean heartburn is more likely to occur.

Common heartburn risks factors and triggers can include:

  • Eating large meals
  • Being physically active soon after eating a large meal
  • Being stressed or anxious
  • Eating certain foods and drinks, such as fatty or spicy meals, chocolate, peppermint, carbonated drinks or having too much alcohol or coffee
  • Being pregnant or overweight can put extra pressure on your stomach
  • Smoking
  • Taking certain kinds of medications.

Heartburn treatments

It’s a good idea to try to understand what can trigger your heartburn and learn how to avoid the discomfort of heartburn by making a few simple lifestyle changes – such as losing weight, eating smaller meals more frequently or stopping smoking.

If these changes don’t help then using over-the-counter medicines can be helpful in providing relief from heartburn symptoms.

There are a number of different over-the-counter heartburn medicines available including:

  • Antacids which help neutralise stomach acid and are generally more suited to mild or occasional heartburn
  • Acid-suppressing medicines that reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes – there are two types available: proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine receptor blockers (H2 blockers).

You should always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medications to make sure they are right for you.

When to see your doctor

Mild occasional bouts of heartburn are common and not usually a cause for concern – but it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re experiencing frequent heartburn (more than twice a week) or you feel like it’s getting severe or progressively worse.

Heartburn can be a very uncomfortable and distressing problem for some people – talking to your healthcare professional about what you’re experiencing may be the first step to managing your heartburn symptoms.