INTRODUCTION

Heartburn is generally a burning sensation in the upper chest region of the body. It’s caused as a result of any form of inflammation in the esophagus. Heartburn can occur casually sometimes after eating certain kinds of food, e.g, spicy food. However frequent heartburn ranging above thrice a week might be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.

CAUSES OF HEARTBURN

Heartburn is a major symptom of Acid Reflux and there’s no exact condition that causes acid reflux but there are different factors or conditions that can enable the development.

Some of these conditions or factors include:

  • Eating certain foods like spicy foods, beverages, fatty foods, chocolates, alcohol, etc.

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Eating late in the night

  • Stress

  • Pregnancy

  • Usage of aspirin and ibuprofen

  • Hiatus hernia: a condition where the upper region of the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter shifts above the diaphragm. The sphincters will no longer be able to keep stomach contents from returning into the esophagus.

HOW ACID REFLUX OCCURS

In the digestive system, food passes through the mouth into the esophagus before moving down into the stomach. The esophagus is more like a linking tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. It connects continuously with the pharynx directly attached to the back cavity of the mouth. The muscles present in the esophagus acts upon food taken in through the mouth to make sure they’re pushed down into the stomach.

There are also two special kinds of these muscles at the ends of the esophagus known as the upper esophageal sphincter (UES) and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). These sphincters are circular in shape. The UES is located at the junction between the pharynx and the esophagus, it helps prevent food from returning into the mouth while the LES is located at the junction between the esophagus and stomach.

It’s very important for food boluses already pushed down into the stomach not to return and that’s why the LES is present in the digestive tract; it helps prevent food in the stomach refluxing back into the esophagus. There are also cells in the stomach that line up the walls to shield it from the corrosive actions of stomach acids and digestive juices present but the esophagus sadly lacks these cells and therefore is not protected.

The stomach combines the food passed down by the esophagus with the necessary enzymes and acids to initiate the process of digestion. Now when there is a situation where this stomach mixture finds a way to reflux back into the esophagus, there’ll be inflammation in the tract.

The acids will react violently with the lining of the esophagus because of the absence of protective layers like we have in the stomach. When this happens one is said to have an acid reflux condition and the heartburn sensation that’s being felt is a result of the inflammation that occurs in the esophagus.

SYMPTOMS OF HEARTBURN

Acid Reflux has a number of symptoms with Heartburn included but there are certain indications to tell when you’re exactly having a heartburn condition. These symptoms can be mild or severe depending on the condition of the esophagus. They include:

  • Burning chest pain: You begin to feel a burning sensation or sharp pain in your chest. It often gets worse when you’re eating especially spicy foods. The burning sensation can also return at night whenever you’re resting.

  • Body discomfort: You might begin to feel severe pain in the chest when you bend your body or lay down. Sleep is also often disrupted because of the burning feeling worsens.

  • Bitter and Acidic Taste: Since heartburn is a result of acid reflux, you might feel certain acidic or bitter tastes in your mouth.

DIAGNOSIS FOR HEARTBURN

Checking for heartburn in itself can be a bit difficult. Often times, when you observe heartburn symptoms you’ll be required to take tests that check for Acid Reflux. The common ones include:

  • Esophageal Manometry: This diagnosis examines the regular muscle contractions in your gullet while you swallow. It furthermore deals with the coordination and power exerted by the muscles of your esophagus.

  • Upper Endoscopy: In this test, a thin, plastic tube would be inserted down your throat. The tube would have light and a camera (endoscope). It would analyze the insides of your esophagus in order to detect any form of inflammation that might be present.

  • Digestive tract X-ray: You’ll be required to drink a chalky liquid when they’re about to take the X-ray of your digestive tract. The liquid will glaze the lining of your esophagus and run down into the intestine. The glazing will make it easier for the doctor to have a vivid picture of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. From the X-ray, they’ll be able to detect parts of the tract affected by the acid reflux.

TREATMENT FOR HEARTBURN

In treating heartburn, you can decide to opt for natural reliefs or over the counter medicines.

Natural Reliefs/Home Remedies

There are several natural reliefs one can easily get in the home. Some of them include:

  • Baking Soda: Baking Soda which is Sodium bicarbonate is alkaline in nature. It helps neutralize the acidity in the esophagus when digested.

  • Milk: Many times, Milk is one of our first go-to when we have symptoms of heartburn. Milk is also alkaline so it helps soothe the burning sensation.

  • Chewing gums: Chewing gums can reduce the acidity in the esophagus. When we chew gum, there is increased production of saliva in the mouth. The saliva contains enzymes like ptyalin that are alkaline in nature. When the saliva goes down the esophagus, it reacts with the acidic contents and neutralizes it.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid. The acetic acid fights against certain bacteria in the digestive tract and helps soothe the linings of the esophagus where inflammation has occurred.

Over the counter medicines

There are mainly three types of over the counter medications that can be used for the treatment of heartburn symptoms. They are:

  • Antacids: This is the most common one. They contain alkaline contents like magnesium, calcium, sodium bicarbonate, etc. Antacids help relieve heartburn by neutralizing the stomach acidic contents that might reflux back into the esophagus. Examples of antacids include milk of magnesia, alternagel, turns, etc.

  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): They are mostly used for the treatment of GERD disease, stomach ulcer, esophageal inflammation, etc. Just like antacids they also help relieve heartburn by reducing the acidic concentration in the stomach. They ensure the stomach doesn’t produce acidic juices for a period of time. Examples of PPIs include lansoprazole, esomeprazole, Omeprazole magnesium, etc.

  • H2 –blockers: H2 blockers is the last in the trio. It also performs a similar task like antacids and PPIs by attacking the acid in the stomach. They react with the contents and neutralize the effects. Examples of H2 -blockers include cimetidine, famotidine, Ranitidine, nizatidine, etc.

  • Surgery: Surgery is only recommended for patients with a very severe case of heartburn especially those who might have developed A Barrett’s esophagus. A Barrett’s esophagus is an esophagus that has been severely damaged by continuous acid reflux over a long period of time.

PREVENTION OF HEARTBURN

To prevent heartburn you need to adopt a few lifestyle changes. Common ones are:

  • Avoid eating too much at once.

  • Reduce eating certain foods like spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, beverages, etc.

  • Avoid eating close to bedtime.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Tilt your bed in a way that allows your upper body to be raised during sleep. 

DOES BAKING SODA WORK FOR HEARTBURN?

Baking Soda is also known as Sodium bicarbonate and it’s an alkaline salt.

Benefits of Baking Soda

Baking soda helps treat heartburn effectively because of it’s high alkalinity. It doesn’t only lessen heartburn sensations, it also helps treat other symptoms of acid reflux. Baking Soda moves down into the stomach and neutralizes the acidic contents that might cause inflammation in the esophagus when acid reflux occurs.

Is Baking Soda safe to use?

Baking Soda is edible so it’s not poisonous to the body. The only caution is to avoid consuming excessive raw baking soda because it could cause a cardiovascular complication that’s dangerous to the health.

Usage of Baking Soda

Using Baking Soda is quite simple. All you have to do is mix ½ teaspoon of the powder in a glass of water.

Side effects of Baking Soda

While it is rare to develop any side effects from the consumption of baking soda, there are few conditions that could be observed in some people. They are:

  • Bloating

  • Stomach cramps

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Headache, etc.

CONCLUSION

Baking Soda has been an effective home remedy for treating heartburn over the years.

Heartburn symptoms shouldn’t be overlooked especially when they become consistent. After using several natural reliefs or over the counter medicines and symptoms still persist, the best thing is to see a doctor immediately.

Heartburn from acid reflux itself might not be a life-threatening condition but it becomes dangerous when it grows into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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