Heartburn is a know condition where an individual experience a burning sensation on the chest after having a meal. This uncomfortable feeling may last for several seconds up to a couple of hours and the discomfort is due to the regurgitation of stomach contents and acid into the esophagus. When you eat, the food that you consume is chewed by your mouth, goes through the esophagus and into the stomach. The esophageal tube naturally shuts down after food passes through it but for some reason, the sphincter located at the end of the tube fails to shut down properly, thus resulting to the reflux of acid and stomach contents back to the esophagus and sometimes to the throat and mouth.
Signs and Symptoms
Heartburn is also known as pyrosis with manifestations like the following:
- Burning sensation in the esophageal tract that can be painful.
- Discomfort due to the reflux of gastric acid.
- Pain and burning sensation may move from the stomach to the esophagus, throat and neck region.
- Chronic coughing.
The diagnostic procedure for heartburn includes the use of pH monitoring, biopsy, endoscopy or manometry. pH monitoring is a known method where a probe is inserted to the esophageal tract through the nose to record the level of acidity using a poroscopy. With manometry, on the other hand, a pressure sensor or manometer is inserted right into the esophageal tract via the mouth to measure the pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter. Endoscopy is the procedure where the doctor attempts to visualize the esophageal mucosa using an endoscope or a tiny camera that is inserted to the mouth. This is considered as the best way of collecting any evidence of inflammation in the esophagus and to determine damage in the upper digestive tract. In biopsy, the physician removes a sample tissue from the esophagus and checks it for inflammation or any carcinogenic agents.
Prevention and Treatment Options
Sleeping and resting in an upright position is necessary when experiencing frequent heartburn. Pillows should be used to prop the position to acquire relief by elevating the entire torso instead of the head and neck alone. Small and frequent meal consumption is also helpful to prevent the stomach from producing excessive amount of acid. Meals should be free from foods that can stimulate acid production as well. Food components like pretzels, citrus fruits and juices, coffee and tea, chocolate, onions, spices and peppermints should be avoided. You should also avoid wearing tight clothes that can add pressure on the abdominal area.
The treatment options available for heartburn include the administration of antacids, alginates, antagonists and proton pump inhibitors or PPIs. Antacids are considered as the best medication when trying to neutralize stomach acid. These are not just effective in providing quick relief but it is also free from any side effects. Consuming baking soda or sodium bicarbonate with water is also effective in easing the pain due to heartburn. Alginates, on the other hand, can provide protection in the stomach and prevent acid from refluxing back to the esophagus. PPIs are also helpful in stopping acid production but this can only provide short-term relief against the condition.
Adapting to a healthy diet plan and regular and sufficient consumption of water throughout the day can help prevent heartburn attacks. However, take note that it is necessary to address the problem in time, as delay of treatments can worsen the condition and this may result to unbearable discomfort or even complications. If the condition is left untreated, this could result to esophagitis where the inner lining of the esophageal tract becomes inflamed. GERD or gastroesophageal disease, acid reflux disease and hiatal hernia are some of the complications that may also occur in case heartburn is untreated. That is why it is necessary to consult a physician for severe heartburn conditions.