Things You Should Know About Heartburn And GERD

Written by Dr. Kirilyuk Inna Anatolyivna on Wed, 16 November 2022


Here's a situation you've probably been in. You're at a party with your friends and family, catching up with your near and dear ones but secretly wondering when the buffet would start. But soon after a hearty meal, you feel a burning sensation in your chest that makes you restless. Ever wondered what that was about? You probably experienced heartburn or acid reflux, a digestive issue caused by indigestion or overeating of food. This condition if not treated can progress to GERD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). To know the difference between heartburn vs acid reflux vs GERD read further.

Understanding heartburn vs indigestion

To understand more about the discomfort, let's trace the journey of food you just consumed. The moment you have your lunch, the food travels from the oesophagus into the stomach. A little valve that acts as a door to let the food in. This door is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and is supposed to open one way. This prevents the re-entry of food back into the oesophagus. But for some of us, the door has loose hinges which allow the acid to seep upwards again. It's this acid reflux that causes the burning sensation in the centre of your chest named heartburn.

Feeling too full, bloating, discomfort, nausea, gas and pain in your upper abdomen further worsen the way you feel. This may be due to indigestion, also known as dyspepsia.

Why has the LES gone off guard?

The reasons for the loose door (LES) can be varied. Overeating overloads your stomach and may loosen the LES, resulting in pushing the contents inside your stomach to flow back into the oesophagus. Conditions like obesity, pregnancy, constipation can also stress out the stomach. Certain medications, fatty meals, smoking, stress and insomnia may also loosen the LES and cause heartburn.

Can heartburn take a serious turn?

All of us face heartburn at some time or the other. But if it becomes a repetitive feature, it's something you need to worry about. Heartburn, every time you eat, maybe a sign of a further serious condition called GERD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). GERD may lead to long-term cough issues, swelling of the voice box(laryngitis), ulcers of the oesophagus, issues with swallowing food, Barrett's oesophagus that may increase the risk of oesophageal cancer. Dyspepsia can also be a very common symptom of GERD.

Is this how you combat the heartburn issue?

When we face heartburn once in a while, it's usually not something to be worried about. Most of us just visit our local pharmacy and self-medicate with a chewable antacid tablet or a liquid antacid. These drugs neutralize the stomach acid and provide temporary relief.

However, sharp and persistent pain could also be an indication of a heart attack. It's important to differentiate between the pain caused by heartburn and a heart attack. Heartburn usually gets worse after a meal or when the person tries to lie down. OTC medication like an antacid can soothe heartburn but the pain associated with a heart attack is described as tightness and pain in the chest, neck and body accompanied by irregular heartbeat and fatigue.

It's important to see a doctor if any of the above symptoms persist.

Know more about antacids

The antacids you consume may contain ingredients like aluminium hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, or calcium carbonate as well. But long- term use of over the counter antacids can bring about side effects including diarrhoea, changes in the way your body utilizes calcium, an increased risk of kidney stones, an extra deposition of magnesium for constipation or weak bones due to the presence of aluminium. self-medicating unnecessarily without doctors supervision can worsen the current condition and cause more serious ailments in the long run.

Though antacids are great at quickly relieving your heartburn symptoms, they usually don't treat underlying conditions that could be causing them. We always tend to assume it must be something we ate or lack of sleep but the truth is we can never know the exact reason for heartburns! So if you suffer from heartburn for more than two weeks, and as nasty as it sounds, it's important to talk to your doctor.

Recipes for heartburn

Be it food or medicines, it is important to watch what's going into our bodies, especially if you suffer from frequent heartburn. Spicy fatty foods at buffets, junk food, and midnight sugary snacks can ruin your digestive health. And popping antacid pills and syrups to feel alright might not be the long-term solution to these problems.

The key is to be mindful regarding your overall health and consume mindfully. Trying out healthy recipes for acid reflux or GERD diet recipes might help you go easy on the GI tract. Eating a healthy balanced meal is like a treat for your body. If not salads and veggies every day, it is necessary to maintain moderation while eating other foods of our liking. Avoid untimely meals and your stomach will forever be grateful to you! Heartburns can be avoided most of the time by watching what, when and how much food you eat. but for times when they keep coming back or last for long hours, it is necessary to pay your doc a visit!

How to avoid heartburn

There is just one rule that each of us needs to follow. Be observant if your heartburn is getting worse after every meal. So, the next time you experience a sharp pain in the centre of your chest and it lasts for more than an hour, play it safe and call your doctor. The right medication and lifestyle changes will save you from the long-term repercussions of heartburn. Stick to a light and healthy diet and pay attention to your body, it's always trying to tell you something.


Dr. Kirilyuk Inna Anatolyivna

She is graduated from Vinnytsia National Medical University, in 2008.
2008-2010 resident, family practice.
2010-2015 General practitioner, family practice doctor.

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