A spoon of the hot, saucy biryani or a plate of our favorite extra spicy paani puri, and our digestive system gets into the action, acids pour in the stomach to break down the meal, but sometimes, the acid from the stomach runs backward to the esophagus (the food pipe which opens in the stomach) and causes a burning sensation in the middle of the chest more commonly known as Heartburn.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Once we swallow, the food reaches the stomach through the esophagus (food pipe). Just before opening in the stomach, the esophagus is guarded by a muscular ring or valve which opens to let the food go in the stomach, and then it closes again to prevent the stomach acids from sliding up in the esophagus.
In a few cases, due to a faulty valve or when the stomach produces more acid, it sometimes lets the acid seep into the esophagus, causing pain and discomfort.
THE SYMPTOMS OF HEARTBURN
- A painful, burning sensation in the middle of the chest, typically after a meal.
- It gets worsen on lying down or bending over.
- A sour, bitter taste in the mouth.
- Bloating or Burping
- Less common symptoms include difficulty in swallowing, nausea, bad breath, tooth erosion, and a chronic cough.
PEOPLE AT RISK
It can happen to anyone, but lifestyle factors play a major role in how well the valve works and also the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
- Overweight or Obese
- People who eat large meals or heavy meals more often
- Those who drink or smoke.
- People who are always stressed out by something or the other
- Those with a disturbed sleeping pattern.
THE ALARMING SIGNS
Mild heartburn episodes occasionally are seldom to worry about, but if severe heartburn occurs two or more times a week, it could be GERD (GASTROESOPHAGEAL REFLUX DISEASE), which if ignored or left untreated can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
If you experience heartburn more often in the nights, disturbing your sleep, it’s more dangerous. In lying position the acid stays in the esophagus for a long time thus causing more damage to the esophagus. It can cause ulcers and if not treated on time can erode and bleed.
Sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference between the symptoms of severe heartburn and heart attack. If you experience crushing pain, or tightness in the chest that spreads to the jaw or neck, fatigue, shortness of breath, sweats or dizziness. Time is of the essence, immediately seek medical help.
A FEW CHANGES IN YOUR LIFESTYLE CAN IMPROVE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE
- Eat smaller meals
- Finish dinner, 3-4 hours before bedtime, and avoid late-night snacks.
- Know your trigger factors, for example, spicy food. You can try milder versions to satisfy your palate.
- Avoid alcohol and quit smoking.
- Avoid having too many tea or coffee in a day.
- Certain exercise postures are not good for heartburns, avoid abdomen crunches or certain inverted yoga postures.
- Try lying on your left side.
- Wear loose clothes
- Even if medications are prescribed, diet control and healthy lifestyle changes still remain the treatment of choice for occasional heartburn.
HEARTBURN IS VERY COMMON DURING PREGNANCY, ESPECIALLY DURING THE SECOND HALF OF THE PREGNANCY. Lifestyle modifications mentioned above takes care of the symptoms very well during pregnancy, if symptoms still persist, over the counter medicines help.
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