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Heartburn Explained



Heartburn, which goes under the name gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, is a common condition that affects about one in five people in the UK. It traditionally tends to affect individuals above the age of 40, but it can occur across all ages and sexes. It is not uncommon for infants to exhibit brief periods of similar symptoms. We will give an outline of the symptoms here but you can find more information at this in-dept website.


The most reliable explanation for heartburn is that the so-called LOS –muscle is weakened. Essentially, the LOS-muscle is able to open to allow for food to come from the throat to the stomach, once the food is in the stomach the LOS closes so that stomach acid does not leak back into the throat.


Individuals with heartburn tend to have weakened LOS muscles, which results in the stomach acid being able to reach the throat. The key factors that can affect whether a person’s LOS muscles are weakened are if they are overweight or obese, if they consume excessive amounts of alcohol, tobacco, chocolate or coffee. Heartburn can also be a secondary symptom caused by stress, hormonal changes in pregnancy, stress or hiatus hernia.


The symptoms of heartburn include a burning sensation in the chest area, particularly after eating or when lying down. Many individuals also report getting a nasty taste at the back of their mouth. It is believed that about a third of all patients with heartburn will experience difficulties with swallowing and that some individuals may have symptoms such as chest pain and wheezing. Additional detail can be found here.


There are several areas that can be targeted as a part of heartburn treatment, such as diet, medications and surgery. Overall, medical practitioners will start by recommending changes in a persons’ lifestyle such as starting a healthy diet, losing weight, stop smoking and monitoring what triggers the heartburn. Some practitioners also recommend raising the top of a patients bed by about 20 centimetres.


When lifestyle changes are insufficient, then there is a possibility to obtain over-the counter medications. Antacids are the most common over-the-counter medications for heartburn and work by neutralising the stomach acid. However, antacids may be unsuitable for individuals who take other medications. This is because the stomach acid is needed to enable to body to absorb medications. In contrast to antacids, so-called alginates work by making a coating that protects the stomach from stomach acid and the effects of it. Advice on over the counter remedies can be found by following this link.


If a person has exhausted the possibilities of lifestyle changes and over the counter medications, then there are medications that can be prescribed. The three main types of medications are proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), H2 receptor antagonists and prokinetics. Whilst the first two have fairly mild side effects, the prokinetics can create so called extrapyramidal effects. These are symptoms that occur as a result of the medications’ impact on the nervous system and include muscle spasms, an inability to keep your tongue in your mouth at all times and changes to body posture. However, these can be reversed within 24 hours of ceasing to take the medication. You can get more information on prescription remedies at this online clinic's heartburn page here.


Whilst there is no denying that heartburn is unpleasant, there is also a need to be wary of the signals a person’s body may be sending. The symptoms of heartburn can point towards serious diseases (such as stomach cancer). Because of this, it is important to understand that over the counter remedies and prescription medications may not be the solution for persistent symptoms. More information can be found at this helpful website.


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