Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is a frequent complaint and almost everyone has it occasionally. Most of the time the cause will be from overeating or eating something that irritates the digestive canal, where a simple antacid is all that’s needed. Antacids work quickly to neutralize the acid and last up to four hours.
Products to alleviate this problem are endless. But if you have severe or persistent heartburn and/or difficulty in swallowing, signs of bleeding, hoarseness, coughing, wheezing or chest pain, see a healthcare provider first; this is to rule out anything more serious, preventing further problems.
Before taking medicine for relief, first try the following: lose weight if necessary,
wear loose-fitting clothing, eat smaller meals and eat slowly. Elevating the head of the bed may help. Additionally, give yourself a few hours between eating and lying down. Do not use baking soda for indigestion; it will only make matters worse.
Foods that may cause distress are fats, chocolate, mints and acidic or spicy foods, even milk or carbonated beverages. Other triggers are caffeine, alcohol, smoking, stress, obesity and pregnancy. The main drugs that irritate the stomach are pain medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and products containing these drugs, but almost any drug can bring about indigestion. However, acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not usually irritate the stomach. Taking medicine after food and/or with a glass of water may help prevent irritation. Actually, unless you are directed to take medicine on an empty stomach, it is a good idea to take all drugs after eating. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal; even a cracker with a piece of cheese or a bit of peanut butter or yogurt works.
The lining of the stomach is protected by naturally occurring antacids, but occasionally the contents will escape up into the swallowing tube (esophagus), and are more irritating there. The term used to describe a backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus is gastroesophageal reflux, or commonly called reflux. Almost everyone experiences this type of reflux at some time. Heartburn, the most common symptom of reflux, is an uncomfortable burning sensation, most commonly behind the breastbone, sometimes radiating to the neck or throat and occurring after a meal. It is not really the heart that is irritated but the esophagus, which is close to the heart. However, heartburn may mimic the symptoms of some heart problems. In some individuals reflux is frequent or severe enough to cause more significant problems and is considered to be a disease. When it reaches that point, it is called GERD, an acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is then time to see your physician.
Histamine 2 blockers are drugs that partially reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach. They are quite safe and effective, take about 20-30 minutes to work, and last up to eight hours. Some are available in a generic equivalent. If you contemplate eating foods that bother you, take a ranitidine (generic for Zantac) tablet which is available without prescription. If taken preventively, it works better than taking it after the distress begins.
A group of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors almost completely suppress acid production in the stomach. Drugs included in this group are Prilosec (generic equivalent is omeprazole), Aciphex, Prevacid, and Protonix. They are usually successful when other medications are not. Chronic reflux can lead to other very serious diseases, so work with your physician to alleviate this problem. My advice before taking any of these drugs is to consult with your healthcare provider.
If you are taking any prescription medications or if your symptoms persist, check with your physician or pharmacist before using any over-the-counter drugs.