Hyperacidity and Heartburn
The natural process of digestion involves the production of digestive juices and stomach acids to break the down the food we eat and absorb the necessary nutrients. When there is too much pressure built up in the stomach, the contents of the stomach along with the acids and digestive juices are forced upwards and out through the stomach valve, esophagus, throat and mouth. This is called acid reflux and can cause irritation and inflammation of the throat and esophagus. When the stomach acids travel upwards they cause an unpleasant burning sensation and it is this feeling that is referred to as hyperacidity or heartburn.
Contrary to the obvious implications, heartburn does not have anything to do with the heart. Rather, the feeling of warmth and discomfort felt due to the excess of stomach acids and juices produced affects mainly your digestive system and is one of the most common complaints experienced by people across all age groups. Heartburn and hyperacidity are generally indicative symptoms that something else is amiss. Hyperacidity and heartburn should be considered as warning signs of an unhealthy lifestyle, bad eating habits, or even an underlying medical ailment or illness that needs to be treated.
Symptoms of Hyperacidity and Heartburn
Following are some common symptoms associated with both hyperacidity and heartburn:
- Sudden stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gas and flatulence
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain that may travel to the jaw, arms, and back
- Acid reflux
- Heartburn that occurs half an hour after eating. This pain is worsened when lying down or bending over
- Pain caused by heartburn will ease when standing up, drinking water or taking antacids
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Chronic reflux can cause tooth decay, sore throat, and a hoarse voice. The throat may also feel closed up and constricted
- Gastric ulcers
- Weight loss
- In severe cases of hyperacidity, there may be damage to the esophagus leading to trouble eating and becoming dehydrated. Vomiting blood or blood in the stools are indications that the esophagus may have torn and is bleeding internally.
To anyone unfamiliar with heartburn the symptoms may appear disturbingly akin to those from a heart attack, and it's easy to be confused. While it is important that you do not panic, its best to play it safe and consult with your doctor immediately if you're not completely sure that its heartburn. Do not second guess yourself as in such cases the faster you react, the better your chances of survival.
Causes of Hyperacidity and Heartburn
Heartburn and hyperacidity are primarily lifestyle or age related. While there are various health conditions and circumstances that could cause hyperacidity and heartburn, for the most part, the condition results from unhealthy lifestyle choices.
- The biggest contributing factor towards heartburn and hyperacidity is bad eating habits. Eating large meals and foods that are high in unhealthy fats, starch, sugars, spices and oil can all lead to heartburn. Eating heavy meals before sleeping also causes hyperacidity, as you are not giving your body adequate time to digest the food properly. When you sleep soon after eating, the reclined position also makes it easier for acid reflux to occur. Keeping long gaps between meals and skipping meals can also cause acids to build up in the stomach and lead to heartburn and acidity. Bad eating habits put extra stress on the digestive system making it work overtime to try and function normally.
- The sphincter muscle in the esophagus acts as a valve keeping the stomach acids from moving upwards towards the throat and the mouth. This sphincter muscle can get weakened due to a number of reasons and this can lead to acid reflux and hyperacidity. Certain foods also weaken the esophageal sphincter and increase your chances of acidity. These include chocolate, caffeine, raw garlic and onions, carbonated drinks, dairy products, oily fried foods, spicy foods and alcohol. Keeping a food diary and tracking which foods affect you can help you make better dietary choices to avoid attacks of heartburn and hyperacidity.
- A sedentary lifestyle can aggravate the functioning of the digestive system. Regular exercise can also reduce obesity another cause of heartburn and acidity.
- Certain medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics or medications to treat heart problems and blood pressure can cause hyperacidity. When medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen are taken over an extended period of time, this may result in heartburn as well.
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as excessive drinking and smoking can not only damage your liver and lungs, but also increase the chances of hyperacidity and heartburn.
- Stress and tension are believed to cause hyperacidity as well. Ulcers can also form due to stress and this can further aggravate normal digestion. The best way to cope with stress is through meditation and regular exercise such as yoga. Deep breathing exercises are also beneficial if you suffer from constant stress and anxiety.
- If you suffer from diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hiatal hernia, and autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma or Raynaud phenomenon, you are more susceptible to hyperacidity and heartburn.
- Other cause of heartburn and acidity include fasting and crash dieting, the normal aging process, extra tight clothing, and pregnancy. All these conditions put extra pressure on the stomach and esophagus and can lead to acidity.
Remedies for Hyperacidity and Heartburn
As with most mild lifestyle diseases, hyperacidity and heartburn can be easily managed and even reversed with the appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes. Most medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, will only help to provide relief from the symptoms, but they do not offer a permanent cure. Home treatments are therefore a very viable option and can actually be quite effective in the treatment of hyperacidity and heartburn. As with medications however, you should keep in mind that for any lasting change you need to make an effort to practice healthier eating habits, and live a healthier lifestyle.
If you condition is caused as a result of some other disorder or disease however, you will need medical attention and treatment for the underlying condition. In most other circumstances, home remedies for hyperacidity and heartburn should suffice:
- If the acidity is mild and occasional, all you may need to do to treat the condition is make some simple changes to your lifestyle and eating habits. Avoiding heavy meals (especially before sleeping), caffeine and fizzy drinks can all help prevent hyperacidity. Foods such as peppermint, tomatoes, citrus fruit, chocolate and oily foods that irritate the esophagus and weaken the stomach sphincter should also be avoided.
- Activities that put too much pressure on the stomach and cause acid reflux, such as bending; lifting heavy objects, straining, and coughing should be reduced as well.
- Do not wear tight clothes and lose weight if you are obese. Yoga and meditation can help lessen stress and reduce heartburn.
- Keep your bed and pillows at an incline so that you do not lie flat on your back when sleeping. If you suffer from heartburn and acidity at night, keep at least a three-hour gap between your last meal and the time you sleep.
- Stop smoking and limit your intake of alcohol as both can damage the sphincter and cause acid reflux.
- If the problem has developed as a side effect of certain medications it is likely to be temporary and will resolve, once your treatment stops. You could also ask your doctor to prescribe an alternate medication, but make sure you don't stop any medications yourself.
- An easy hyperacidity remedy is to take over-the-counter antacids. When taken an hour after eating, most antacids help in relieving symptoms of acidity and work by neutralizing the acids in the stomach. Keep in mind that this is simply a temporary solution.
- Baking soda is an extremely effective home remedy for heartburn. A natural antacid, baking soda can neutralize stomach acids and reduce heartburn. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink quickly. This causes a release of carbon dioxide and encourages you to burp, thereby releasing the pressure in the stomach. Care has to be taken when administering this treatment as this method can also cause regurgitation of food due to the opening of the stomach valve.
- Other good acidity home remedies include bananas, ginger, and turmeric. Bananas are a natural antacid for the body and can help reduce stomach juices. Ginger tea or raw ginger is one of the oldest home remedies for heartburn. Turmeric can be cooked with your meals or had in the supplement form. Turmeric aids healthy digestion and prevents acidity.
- Herbal teas such as chamomile tea can relieve stress and prevent acid build up in the stomach.
- Aloe vera juice extracted from the aloe vera plant can reduce inflammation in the esophagus and heal stomach ulcers. Just make sure that the aloe vera is created for internal consumption.
- Make a juice of cleaned raw unpeeled potatoes and drink this mixed with some other more palatable fresh fruit or vegetable juice to reduce symptoms of heartburn.
Diet for Hyperacidity and Heartburn
Your diet is the single most important influencing factor in the development of acid reflux and heartburn and also in its outcome. Dietary changes are absolutely essential, whether or not the condition has developed as a result of a faulty diet or due to some other health condition.
- Your first step should be to eliminate or drastically reduce your intake of foods that increase or contribute to acidity. Acidic foods such as citrus fruit and tomatoes and foods such as garlic, leeks, onions, mustard, vinegar, pepper, and cabbage should be avoided.
- On the other hand, increase foods such as bananas, papayas, apples, and watermelon that help reduce acidity by naturally neutralizing acids in the stomach. Fruits such as peaches, grapes, and berries should be eaten in moderation as too much can cause heartburn as well.
- Spicy and oily foods should be cut out of your diet as they can trigger acid reflux almost immediately. Dairy products such as sour cream, cottage cheese and even milk can increase the production of stomach acids so they should be consumed in small quantities only.
- Foods that are high in fat and sugars can cause hyperacidity. Snacks and junk food like donuts, fries, cakes, muffins, and chocolates can irritate the esophagus and put lead to obesity (another cause of heartburn).
- Whole grain breads and cereals can put too much pressure on the digestive system and should be avoided. If you are allergic to gluten and wheat products, these items may cause further complications.
Suggestion for Hyperacidity and Heartburn
Call your doctor if you continue to suffer from acidity even after making the necessary changes to your diet and lifestyle. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may require medical attention:
- Vomiting blood or blood in the stools
- Dizziness, confusion, and lightheadedness
- Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
- Sudden weight loss
- Acidity and heartburn gets worse with activity
- US Department of Health and Human Services
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