Heartburn and stomach acid problems are common and can cause some very uncomfortable symptoms.

SYMPTOMS

Some symptoms are easy to recognise but others are not so obvious.

  • Burning in the stomach and chest, which may rise up to the throat
  • Food coming back into your mouth after swallowing
  • Excess burping
  • Acid (bitter) taste in the mouth
  • Vomiting or lump in the throat
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat

The stomach is lined by a thick mucosa (or mucous layer). Mucous consists of about 98% water.

During digestion of food, harsh acid is released to break it down for absorption. In a well functioning mucous layer, bicarbonate is mixed in the water, which neutralises the acid and protects the stomach.

CAUSES OF HEARTBURN

  • Dehydration – Insufficient water intake can make the mucous layer too thin to protect the stomach from the acid. The acid then “digests” the stomach wall, which can lead to erosion and ulceration.
  • If the valve at the top of the stomach does not close properly, the acid can flush up the oesophagus (food pipe) causing inflammation and pain. If this flushing occurs repeatedly it can damage the lining of the oesophagus. This condition is called GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease).
  • Bacteria in the stomach, called Helicobacter pylori. This can cause persistent inflammation in the stomach and result in an ulcer.
  • Drug side effects – many over the counter and prescription medications can cause heartburn, such as anti-inflammatories (eg aspirin, ibuprofen), antibiotics and antidepressants.

There are many treatments available from the pharmacy such as antacids and other medications. Antacids neutralise the acid and give quick relief of symptoms. Other medications reduce the acid production in the stomach. These are used as preventatives for people with more severe symptoms.

PRACTICAL TIPS

  • Drink enough water to keep your urine light yellow
  • Eat smaller meals and chew the food well
  • Avoid or reduce acidic or spicy foods and drinks – such as tomato, orange juice, coffee, alcohol
  • Reduce or stop smoking
  • Check with your pharmacist if your medications cause heartburn – some must be taken with food to protect the stomach
  • Wear loose clothing around your waist
  • Avoid vigorous exercise for 2 hours after eating
  • Use a higher pillow when sleeping
  • Manage stress – stress and anxiety can trigger stomach acid problems
  • Natural remedies such as Slippery Elm Bark (coats and sooths the gastro-intestinal tract), ginger (helps with nausea and stomach upset) and probiotics (restores bacterial balance)

WARNING SIGNS

If you experience the following symptoms, talk to your doctor or pharmacist:

  • Black or bloody bowel motions or vomit
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Worsening symptoms
  • Symptoms that wake you at night
  • Heart attack can feel like heartburn – if symptoms are severe and last longer than 10 minutes CALL FOR AN AMBULANCE

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