Everything you Need to Know About Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Everything you Need to Know About Heartburn and Acid Reflux
This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
Are you feeling the burn?
Okay, let’s be honest, we’ve all been guilty of overindulging on delicious food at one point or another in our lives.
Picture the scene, it’s Christmas day, you’re tucking into your Christmas dinner with all the trimmings when someone offers you your 10th pig in a blanket.
Do you say no? Absolutely not.
You devour that deliciously wrapped pig in record time… and then immediately regret it when you start to feel that creeping, burning feeling in your chest that tells you that you’re about to suffer with some major heartburn.
But what is heartburn anyway? Today we’re going to have a good look at what heartburn is and what you can do to keep it away.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is that uncomfortable feeling in your chest, that feels a bit like there’s something burning in there.
So, it’s a burning feeling behind your heart… Whoever named this condition was really to the point, huh?
Heartburn isn’t usually serious and lots of people suffer with it at some point in their life, so don’t worry if you suddenly feel the burn, chances are it will pass pretty quickly and you can get on with your day.
Is it heartburn or acid reflux?
When you’ve asked people about heartburn you might have heard the term acid reflux thrown around, and you wouldn’t be the first person to think that they’re just the same thing.
The truth is that heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, which is when your stomach acid starts to work its way up towards your throat.
This acid is what causes the burning sensation that we know as heartburn.
What is Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD)?
So now we know what heartburn and acid reflux are you’re probably wondering where this third term enters into the equation.
Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease or GORD is what it’s called when you suffer with heartburn regularly, rather than just having it every so often.
So, to break it down, acid reflux causes heartburn, if you get heartburn a lot then you might have GORD, pretty simple, right? Glad we’re all on the same page!
What are the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux?
Yes, heartburn itself is a symptom of acid reflux, but there are a couple more symptoms you might notice when you’re dealing with heartburn and acid reflux.
They’re all caused by that stomach acid creeping up to your throat, and you might notice that they get worse if you lie down or bend over and that they appear pretty quickly after you’ve eaten.
These other common symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux are:
- A cough that keeps coming back
- An unpleasant taste in your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- A hoarse voice
- Bad breath
- Hiccups that keep coming back or won’t go away
- Needing to burp
What causes heartburn?
Now we know that you’ve got heartburn, we’re going to want to get to the bottom of why you’re dealing with this annoying condition.
There are a few different causes of heartburn, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a common problem.
Sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint a cause, heartburn just happens whether you like it or not, but some of the most common causes you can look out for include:
- Certain foods – coffee, alcohol, greasy foods, fatty foods, and spicy foods are all common culprits
- Stress or anxiety
- Being overweight
- Side effects from medication
- A hiatus hernia
How can my pharmacist help me to treat heartburn?
If you’re struggling with heartburn then you’re probably trying to find a way to get rid of that burning sensation fast and luckily, your pharmacist can help!
If you go to your local pharmacy or log onto a friendly online pharmacy (we’d like to recommend ourselves, we’re pretty darn great!), then you’ll be able to pick up a kind of medication known as an antacid, which can help to ease that pesky heartburn.
Antacids work by neutralising the stomach acid that’s causing all that irritation, helping it to settle back down.
They might also contain ingredients which can help to coat your stomach with a protective layer or reduce flatulence, which is an added bonus for anyone who has to be around you if your stomach isn’t being friendly!
Antacids are available in two types, so let’s take a quick look at both of them.
The first type of antacids available are tablets, which are sometimes solid tablets and sometimes chewable.
These are perfect for taking with you if you’re planning on going out and about and don’t want to be suffering with heartburn when you do.
The other type of antacids available from your pharmacy is liquid medicine.
This type might be better for those who struggle to swallow when they’re suffering with heartburn and find the liquid formula easier to take than tablets.
When should I see my GP with heartburn?
Sometimes, your regular over the counter remedies just don’t help your heartburn and this is when you’re going to want to see your doctor and get checked out.
If you’ve had heartburn most days for around 3 weeks or even longer, or if your heartburn is accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, food getting stuck when you try to swallow, or unintended weight loss, make an appointment to see your doctor.
They’ll be able to help you to be sure that there’s nothing more serious going on.
If heartburn is the problem after all, your doctor could give you a prescription medicine which will reduce the amount of acid made in your stomach, helping to ease your heartburn that way, so it’s worth a visit if that heartburn is really serious.
Heartburn during pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, you might suddenly find that you’re stuck suffering with heartburn and have no idea why.
Well, it might be some comfort to know that heartburn is extremely common during pregnancy and that some over the counter remedies can be taken by pregnant women, although you should consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking anything while you’re pregnant.
Heartburn normally happens during pregnancy because of changes in your hormones or because your baby presses against your stomach as it grows, making stomach acid more likely to creep up towards your throat.
Just remember that it’s perfectly normal, and that you can always ask your midwife, GP, or pharmacist if you have any questions.
Heartburn at night
Some people may find that their heartburn gets worse at night, and although this isn’t fun when you’re trying to get some sleep, it’s completely normal.
When you’re lying down, the stomach acid that causes heartburn finds it easier to travel up from your stomach and cause irritation.
If you find that this happens to you, one of the easiest things you can do to help to ease this problem is changing how you sleep.
Use pillows or place something underneath your mattress so that your head and shoulders are raised by around 10 – 20cm while you sleep.
Keeping your head and shoulders higher than your waist will make it harder for that pesky stomach acid to sneak up on you.
Are there any home remedies for heartburn?
Although over the counter remedies for heartburn can help a lot, there are some simple lifestyle choices you can make at home that will help to keep that heartburn at bay.
For starters, watch what you eat, if you know that one particular kind of food triggers your symptoms then stay away from it if you don’t want to feel the burn.
Keep your meals smaller and more frequent, rather than eating larger meals less often, and don’t eat within 3 – 4 hours before your bedtime.
Try to quit smoking if you’re a smoker, and if you’re overweight then losing weight can help too.
If you think that your heartburn could be caused by stress, try to find ways to relax, such as meditation or a hobby that you love.
Finally, look at your wardrobe, wearing clothes that are tightly fitted around your waist could be triggering that heartburn.
Well that’s all we’ve got to say about heartburn right now, but I think we’ve been pretty thorough about all things acid reflux, right?
If you’ve still got some questions, why not give our friendly Chemist 4 U pharmacists a call or use our Ask A Pharmacist feature to contact them there.
They’ll blow you away with all of their heartburn knowledge, so you won’t have to worry about feeling the burn for much longer!