Heartburn is the name given to a burning or painful sensation felt in the upper chest, most often occurring after eating food. It is a common symptom of Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). GORD is the leading cause of indigestion in Ireland and is thought to affect 1 in 5 people at least once a week. The condition is twice as common in men as it is in women. It is caused by a build up of or leakage of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus or gullet (the tube that links the mouth to the stomach). This can lead to irritation and discomfort of the gullet which will often worsen after you have eaten or are bending over or lying down.
Factors and triggers that can cause heartburn include:
- Being overweight
- Eating spicy, fatty or fried foods
- Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks or coffee
- Smoking tobacco
- Being pregnant
While heartburn is not a life-threatening disease, it can have an impact on your day to day life and repetitive episodes could damage your throat. As such it would be beneficial to identify a treatment that works for you.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication includes:
- Antacids – to neutralise stomach acid
- Alginates – to form a protective coating around the lining of the stomach
- H2 Antihistamines – to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
- Proton pump inhibitors – to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach
Proton pumps are very successful treatment. We recommend the Nexium brand for convenient once daily dosage and 24 hour control.
Lifestyle advice includes:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Identify triggers of heartburn and avoid them
- Avoid smoking and alcohol and reduce caffeine intake
- Avoid large, fatty meals, especially before bed
- Elevate the head while sleeping
When to check with your GP
You should visit your GP if symptoms of heartburn become more severe or frequent, if you do not respond to OTC treatment after two weeks, if you have difficulty eating or keeping your food down, if you develop unexplained weight loss, if you are nauseous and vomiting or if you are passing black or bloody stools. You should also visit your doctor if your heartburn has a negative impact on your day to day life
Heartburn in Pregnancy
Heartburn is quite a common occurrence in pregnancy, particularly in the later trimesters. This is mainly due to hormonal changes that relax the muscles around the stomach that keep the stomach acid inside. The growing baby can also put pressure on the stomach and cause acid to escape. You are also more likely to develop heartburn during pregnancy if you have been pregnant before or if you had heartburn prior to getting pregnant.