Heartburn affects millions of people on a regular basis. As many as 25 million adults suffer from daily episodes of heartburn. Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of this disorder. Pregnant women, smokers and the obese are all at greater risk of suffering from heartburn.
Symptoms of heartburn include a burning sensation, pressure or pain between the breastbone and the throat area. Symptoms typically worsen after eating, bending over or lying down. The pain can last up to 2 hours and, when severe, has often been mistaken for a heart attack. One way to differentiate between the two conditions is to determine if the pain is associated with physical activity. The pain from heart disease is often associated with physical activity while the pain from heartburn is not. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and go to the emergency room.
Heartburn and Obesity
Being overweight can contribute to symptoms of heartburn. Excess fat can put pressure on the digestive system and cause stomach contents to be pushed up towards the esophagus. Studies indicate that up to 35 percent of overweight individuals suffer from heartburn. High fat and high calorie diets contribute to acid reflux as well as obesity. Losing weight in the early stages of the disorder can help ease symptoms, but once the esophageal sphincter muscle is severely damaged, losing weight may not help. That’s why it’s important to consult with a doctor when suffering from symptoms of chronic heartburn.
Keeping your weight in check is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heartburn. Other prevention measures you can take include, eating smaller meals and avoiding foods that trigger your heartburn symptoms. You may also find that not lying down right after eating and propping up on pillows when sleeping will aid in the prevention of heartburn symptoms.
Mild and infrequent heartburn can usually be addressed with over the counter antacid medications. The active ingredients commonly found in over the counter antacids are aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, magnesium and sodium bicarbonate. Antacids will bring relief of the burning sensation of heartburn rather quickly, they will not, however, prevent further acid buildup.
Other over the counter treatment options include a class of drugs known as acid blockers. These medications work by suppressing acid production in the stomach without inhibiting the digestive process. If the heartburn is chronic or severe, a prescription drug may be necessary to control symptoms and prevent further damage.
It’s important to read the labels on over the counter drugs, even seemingly benign medications, like simple antacids, are contraindicated in people with certain medical conditions or who are taking certain prescription drugs. For example, antacids containing sodium bicarbonate are not recommended for individuals who, because of hypertension, are on a low sodium diet. Always check with a doctor or pharmacist if you are uncertain as to the safety of taking a particular medication.