Acid reflux: you burn when you eat
If the thought of a full meal makes you queasy, you may have acid reflux. This common condition has a whole host of drugs to treat it. Here's how to make sense of them all.
It's Friday night, which means its fast food night. Three pieces of pizza, a liter of soda and an order of fries later, and your chest feels like someone set it on fire. Don't even try laying down. You will likely burn a hole straight through your throat. This is the common condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, but it is commonly called heartburn. Everyone gets it from time to time, but you can have some serious complications from it if you have it all the time. Essentially, food and gastric juice leak out of the stomach and back up the food pipe, or esophagus, and cause pain. Left untreated, GERD can lead to an esophageal ulcer, changes in your esophagus that are linked to cancer, excessive bleeding and strictures, or narrowing, of the esophagus that makes it difficult to swallow.
Burn, baby, burn: acid reflux's painful symptoms
The most common sign of acid reflux is heartburn, or a painful burning sensation behind the breast-bone that can travel into the throat, according to PubMed Health. This burning is made worse by laying down, bending over or eating more. You may also experience nausea, a feeling of food trapped in your esophagus or difficulty swallowing. Coughing, sore throat and regurgitating your food are also possible, though less common.
Put out the fire: a wide range of acid reflux medications
Most people reach for antacids when they have reflux symptoms. These are over the counter medications, such as Tums, that react with the acid on contact and help relieve pain. They are usually helpful for occasional and mild GERD symptoms, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Foaming agents, such as Gaviscon, also fall into this category. H2 blockers, such as famotidine, are helpful against mild heartburn symptoms and are available over the counter or by prescription. Proton pump inhibitors are the strongest GERD drugs and can even heal a damaged esophagus. These medications are also available over the counter. However, it is unsafe to take these drugs without consulting a doctor first. There may be other reasons why you are having GERD that only a doctor can diagnose.
Hurts so bad: diet and lifestyle changes
You can affect your GERD symptoms by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle. Foods that cause heartburn include alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, chocolate, any citrus fruits, tomatoes, high fat foods, fried foods, full fat dairy, peppermint and spearmint. Smoking also tends to make GERD worse, as does sleeping within two to three hours of eating a meal. You might also want to raise the head of your bed six to eight inches by placing wooden blocks under the headboard. Elevating your head with pillows is not as effective in helping nighttime GERD symptoms. Obesity is another cause of GERD, so lose weight if you are overweight to get control of your condition. Smaller meals eaten more often will also help with symptoms, and reduce your stress as much as possible to control acid production.
- PubMed Health; Gastroesophageal reflux disease; December 2010
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse; Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD); May 2007
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