All of us feel the caustic sting of heartburn once in a while, don’t we? It’s kind of par for the course in today’s high-speed, high-stress lifestyle, we resign ourselves to believe. However, when heartburn is a frequent bother, often causing unbearable discomfort, especially after a meal, it’s time for a visit to the doctor. It could well be gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD (commonly called acid reflux or simply acidity), a condition in which the esophagus becomes irritated or inflamed because of acid backing up from the stomach.
Many patients with GERD complain of a feeling of fullness or burning pain under the breastbone along with nausea and their discomfort is often heightened after eating, bending over or lying down, and the symptoms get worse at night.
GERD has been linked to obesity, smoking, alcohol, some trigger foods and coffee, and sometimes pregnancy. However, there are some medicines that include certain groups of sedatives for insomnia, a few types of antidepressants and high blood pressure Beta blockers which could also contribute to GERD complications.
If you are experiencing symptoms of acid reflux repeatedly, you shouldn’t ignore the condition and see a gastroenterologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment. A majority with heartburn will respond well to nonsurgical management of the disease and medication like antacids, H2 blockers or PPIs (proton pump inhibitors). Your doctor might suggest an upper-endoscopy, often used to examine the esophagus for a definitive diagnosis. In some patients, anti-reflux operations could be an option.
Once you are positively diagnosed with GERD, you must accept the fact that you will have to live with the condition and hence manage it well. So here are some common protocols you can follow to alleviate symptoms of GERD:
Eat smaller meals more often, eat slowly: If you consume smaller amounts of food several times a day, you will reduce gastric pressure on your esophagus. Also, try to eat at a slower pace which will help a lot as well.
Avoid eating just before bedtime: During sleep, your esophagus relaxes and gravity works against you. If you eat at least two hours before going to bed, thus allowing food to digest properly, you will be much more comfortable.
Skip foods that cause heartburn: Avoid foods that are known to increase gastric pressure and relax the lower esophageal muscles, like carbonated drinks, coffee, mint, fried foods and fruit juices.
Avoid alcohol: Alcohol intake increases the production of stomach acid. Alcoholic drinks also relax the lower esophageal muscles that stop reflux, and could lead to peptic ulcers.
Take antacids: Antacids can give you quick relief from heartburn symptoms and remain effective for up to 12 hours. However, please remember that overuse of antacids can cause constipation, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Your gastroenterologist might prescribe an H2 blocker like ranitidine about an hour before symptoms normally surface.
Raise your bed: You cantryelevating the headboard end of your bed a few inches, thus using gravity to keep stomach acids from flowing up into your esophagus. A specially-designed wedge pillow can also help achieve the elevated effect.
Don’t wear tight clothes: Tight clothing can put a lot of gastric pressure on your stomach and squeeze food upwards. Very tight undergarments and belts can worsen GERD symptoms. Choose comfortable, relaxed clothing instead.
Quit smoking: Smoking is a major trigger for peptic acid formation in the stomach. It also irritates the lining of the throat and lungs, making reflux symptoms more pronounced.
Stay calm and relaxed: True,thereisn’t any direct correlation between anxiety/stress and GERD, but it has been seen that by managing stress better, some of the symptoms of the disease are better controlled.
The Gastroenterology department at Bhagwan Mahavir Medica offers comprehensive diagnostic and treatment facilities, medical as well as surgical, under the supervision of experienced specialists.
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