Do you ever suffer from heartburn? It can be particularly troublesome during pregnancy. Heartburn starts with a burning sensation in the chest but sometimes emanates from the upper abdomen and spreads into the neck area. It may back up in the form of stomach acid into the oesophagus to leave a sour taste in the mouth, particularly if you are lying down.
While occasional bouts of heartburn are common, if you have repeated heartburn or find you are having to take antacids daily, it would be wise to seek your doctor's advice. Heartburn affects an estimated 20% of people at least once a week. While an occasional heartburn episode may be common, some people have heartburn frequently.
And it is this frequent and persistent heartburn that may be a symptom of a more serious condition. This is gasto-oesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It is the chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower oesophagus.
Symptoms of GERD include
- Chest pain, especially while lying down at night
- A sour taste in the mouth
- Coughing, wheezing, hoarseness or a sore throat
- Regurgitation of food or liquid
Heartburn may be caused by triggers in your diet and keeping a food diary may help you identify problem food.
The common culprits
- Citrus fruits
- Raw onions
- Black pepper
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Citrus juice
- Carbonated beverages
- Alcoholic beverages
How to avoid heartburn
- Eating your last meal at least two to three hours before bedtime
- Eating smaller portion sizes and taking time to eat while chewing
- Reducing stress as this can be a contributing factor, even if indirectly, because stress disrupts our normal routine
- Stress may also slow down the emptying function of the stomach and increase the likelihood of heartburn
- Quitting smoking because nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, a band of muscle at the end of the esophagus, that closes off the esophagus and prevents the acidic stomach contents from entering the esophagus
- Using chewable DGL ( licorice) which is a natural remedy for heartburn
- Using the juice from the aloe vera plant which can help to soothe an irritated esophagus and has a long history of use in Europe as a natural home remedy to relive heartburn - take a 1/4 cup of aloe vera juice (adults) approximately 20 minutes before a meal, remembering that only gel or juice preparations specifically for internal use should be used
If the heartburn seems worse or different from normal - especially if occurring during physical activity or accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm - get emergency help immediately as such signs and symptoms may indicate a heart attack and not your usual heartburn.
Chest pain can also be caused by
- A muscle spasm in your oesophagus.
- A gallbladder attack as the pain from such an attack can also spread to your chest with noticeable nausea and perhaps accompanied by an intense, steady ache in the upper middle or upper right abdomen - especially after a fatty meal. The pain may shift to your shoulders, neck or arms.
The warning signs and symptoms of possible heart problems
- Sudden pressure, tightening, squeezing or crushing pain in the centre of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or arms - especially the left arm.
- Chest discomfort accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness or nausea.
- Pressure or tightness in the chest during physical activity or when you're under emotional stress.
Obviously if you have had a heart attack before, have existing heart disease, are diabetic or a smoker, overweight or obese or have high cholesterol, it becomes even more urgent to seek a proper diagnosis and prompt attention when such symptoms occur over and above the normal heartburn.