Nothing can ruin a good meal like a nasty case of heartburn afterward, or even one that rises up during a meal. For many people, the idea of potentially getting heartburn can deter them from eating the foods they love. In some cases, when it occurs more frequently at night, it can interfere with sleep and affect everything else. The preventative measures you can take to stop heartburn in its tracks and treat it when it starts are more or less the same for whenever it occurs. It is important to understand the causes behind heartburn before attempting to treat it. If you know what is triggering it, then you can spend less time and money trying to find something that works.
So what exactly causes heartburn after meals or at night?
Stomach acid is the source of all heartburn. Normally the digestive enzymes inside your stomach are kept in places by specialized muscles called sphincters. These ring-like muscles contract and relax to allow food and fluids through into the stomach. There is one at the bottom where the stomach meets the intestines, and one at the top where it meets the esophagus. The upper one is called the LES (lower esophageal sphincter), and it is the one that concerns heartburn sufferers. The stomach is a highly specialized sac of muscle tissues, as it digests food, the muscles shift in such a way to churn the content with the acid inside to break it down even more for absorption. The LES has to remain closed very tightly to keep the contents inside. At times, the stomach has produced too much acid, which can happen for many reasons, and the overflow of acid ends up getting through the LES and into the esophagus. The stomach is the only organ in the body that is designed to handle the acid. The thick and protective mucosa lining is only present there, so when it hits the throat that is not designed to handle anything too harsh, there is a lot of painful irritation. There are times when the problem is more with the LES than with the stomach itself. This is particularly true for those who have night-time heartburn when they try to lay down. The acid will reflux, or get forced up into the esophagus, especially when the person lays back and the stomach’s contents are shifted.
The first step in addressing how to prevent heartburn is to monitor for triggers.
Understanding the cause for heartburn can allow you to prevent it in a lot of instances, either by taking medication or being more careful with what you eat. With those suffering from acid reflux at night, medication and modifying how they sleep are the best solutions. There are a lot of foods that can trigger acid production and cause irritation to the stomach, which can lead to other types of indigestion that include heartburn. Some common culprits include: caffeine, chocolate, garlic, citrus- including the kind commonly found in sodas, tomato products, anything extremely spicy such as peppers, and extremely rich foods that are heavy in sugars or creams. With so many things that can trigger heartburn, the idea of modifying a diet to prevent heartburn might sound a bit bland. The truth is; there are a lot of foods still safe to eat, but when the reflux leads to an esophageal ulcer, the BRAT diet is advised while it is being treated. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. It is a fairly restricted diet of somewhat bland foods that can help provide sustenance while not upsetting the stomach further. Taking steps to get heartburn help before it becomes a more serious issue is a wise decision.
For those with night time reflux issues, taking medications to help reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, either as a daily dose or within an hour of going to bed, can help significantly reduce the problem. Sleeping with a bit of an incline can further help keep the stomach acid where it belongs. Often times, when the issue is persistent, it is advisable to discuss the issue with your doctor. The very serious possibility of developing an ulcer makes it a condition that most physicians are keen to treat and prevent. With the right medication and lifestyle modification, acid reflux can easily be controlled and prevented from causing serious harm.
Different medications you can use to relieve heartburn.
The best medicine is preventative medicine, but for those times when heartburn is active, most patients want to treat it as quickly as possible. There are a variety of long term and short term heartburn treatments available over-the-counter without a prescription. For short acting medications there are: Tums, Rolaids, Zantac, Pepcid, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismol, and Gaviscon. Each of these has to be taken either before a meal or at the first sign of heartburn to help prevent it from becoming worse. For some people, the short acting antacids are all they ever need to keep it in check, when it is not too frequent. It not advised to constantly take short acting medications and even the labels warn about over using the product. The better option for treating severe and recurring heartburn is to target the source of the acid. Long acting medications, which can still be taken with the short acting ones as needed, include: Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium. These medications can be taken on a regular basis to help treat the over-production of acid and are available in a convenient once a day dosage. Often times, doctors will recommend a combination of medications to try that can help address the long term goal of stopping the problem, as well as, a short term treatment for the cases of heartburn that will still arise while the other medication is building up to a working point. When over-the-counter medications fail to work, or to fully relieve the issue, there is the option of trying prescription strength medications and dosages. Most of the medicine that is available over-the-counter began as a prescription and many still have higher dosages that are classified as prescription only. There are also different medications that can be prescribed to try im treating and preventing acid reflux. It is best to ask your doctor how to prevent heartburn, before trying too drastic of measures. They can discuss your symptoms and help you identify triggers that can lead to more complete and accurate treatment plans.
Proper treatment for heartburn can take time and patience.
Even though it can come on suddenly, properly treating the underlying causes for it can take a bit of time. The longer acting medications do not produce immediate results, which can be frustrating for some people and lead to them not giving it a proper chance to work. It is important to understand that getting rid of heartburn, especially when there is a lot of acid reflux taking place, that the optimal treatment will often require more than one medication. Each person is different and the exact combination that works best for them, may not be true for everyone else. At times, when the heartburn is only once or twice a week, using a long acting medication can make a bigger impact and be all that is needed. The same is true for just using short term treatments with mild and occasional heartburn as well. When heartburn is occurring more frequently, sometimes, on daily basis, then it is an indication of more difficult problem. Controlling the acid levels and adjusting the diet as needed are often things that require time and patience. In very rare cases, the doctor may need to perform a minor surgery to repair the LES. The procedure is done without making a major incision and requires short hospital time.
In other cases, where the heartburn is particularly stubborn and grows increasingly worse with other symptoms, the doctor may want to rule out an H. Pylori infection. H. Pylori can cause a lot of irritation in the stomach and lead to the development of ulcers. When regular medications are not addressing the issue, it can be a cause for concern and a need for further testing to get to the root of the problem. If a bacteria is causing issues, it needs to be taken care of with an extensive course of medications.
Some patients are reluctant to speak to their doctor or take a lot of medication. It is understandable, and can lead to the question of how to prevent heartburn naturally. Unfortunately, natural heartburn prevention revolves back to limiting the diet to acid friendly foods and employing a part of the BRAT diet. Apples and bananas have natural components that can act like antacids. Eating an apple a day and keeping bananas at hand for heartburn as it arises are the main components of a natural treatment plan that have scientific backing.