Sure, you can medicate the heck out of it - everything from over the counter chewables, liquids and pills to stronger, prescription drugs. But your best bet is to try and prevent it by tackling the root causes. And that’s the good news - most heartburn can be neatly sidestepped by making some fairly simple lifestyle changes.
No! Not the lifestyle changes!
Well, consider this: latest studies show that prolonged use of heartburn meds is linked to an increased risk of bone fractures (acid reducers can interfere with calcium absorption), stomach cancer, chronic kidney disease and even dementia.
The findings are so alarming that new PBS guidelines advise Aussie doctors to scale right back on prescribing PPIs (protein pump inhibitors; the most commonly prescribed heartburn meds) and instead help patients implement non-drug fixes.
Heartburn is the most common symptom of indigestion. Ongoing or chronic heartburn is usually diagnosed as gastro-oesophageal disease (GORD). It happens when stomach acid flows the wrong way (regurgitates) back into your oesophagus - the tube that connects your stomach and mouth.
What does it feel like?
Anything from mild discomfort to OMG! It can vary from a vague burning discomfort in your chest or upper abdomen to feeling like you swigged a bottle of battery acid. Other symptoms might include a dry cough, bloating, burping, sore throat, trouble swallowing.
- Eating or drinking too much
- Consuming trigger foods that irritate
- Being overweight
Less common causes
A condition where a portion of the stomach pushes up through an opening in the diaphragm into the chest.
Heliobacter pylori infection
A type of bacteria that can cause stomach inflammation, gastric ulcers and cancer. About 40 per cent of Aussies carry the bacteria but may not know it.
Heartburn is super common during late pregnancy. Discuss safe medications with your doctor.
Good to know
Heartburn really has nothing to do with your heart. But, if you experience a persistent burning sensation that isn’t normal for you and is accompanied by other symptoms such as intense jaw pain or chest pressure, call 000 immediately, as this may be a sign of heart attack.
It’s a problem if:
- You pop antacids like lollies.
- You regularly take over the counter or prescription medication to control frequent symptoms.
- You sometimes wake up ‘choking’ on acid reflux resulting in excruciating throat and chest burn that won’t quit.
8 natural, easy fixes
1. Track your triggers
Certain foods cause flare ups; they’re not the same for everyone but common offenders include:
- Soft drink
- Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
- Deep fried foods and other high fat goodies like pies, sausage rolls, donuts
- Potato chips, snack foods
- Spicy food
- Acidic foods like tomato, tomato sauces, citrus fruit and juices
- Raw onion and garlic
- Chocolate (that combo of caffeine and fat)
- Cheese, high fat dairy products
2. Slow your roll
Don’t shovel! Practise mindful munching and eat s-l-o-w-l-y.
3. Eat smaller quantities
Overeating can lead to heartburn. Use smaller plates to help with portion control.
4. Eat early
Eat at least 3 hours before bed time. Laying down on a full stomach makes a painful acid reflux attack in the wee hours more likely, especially if you have other risk factors. Sleeping with your head slightly raised can also help.
5. Go for an after-dinner walk
You can solve the problems of the world and help your digestion at the same time.
6. Lose belly fat
Being overweight is the biggest risk factor for indigestion and heartburn. Losing even a couple of kilos can help reduce that extra pressure on your stomach.
7. Hang loose
If the too-tight skinny jeans are bringing you down, don’t wear ‘em!
8. Put down the ciggies
Smokers are more likely to experience heartburn.
Best calming foods and drink
- Grilled chicken and turkey
- Grilled or baked fish
- Whole grain bread and pasta
- Non acidic fruits like banana and melon
- Brown rice
- Porridge (oats)
- Plant-based milks like almond and cashew
- Herbal teas including calming ginger and chamomile, aloe vera juice
Do I need a test?
Your GP might refer you to a gastroenterologist for a procedure called an upper endoscopy if symptoms are not well controlled by short term drug therapy and/or lifestyle changes.
Chew some non-minty gum after meals. It helps boost saliva production which helps neutralises stomach acid.
Good to know
- Heartburn really has nothing to do with your heart. But, if you experience a persistent burning sensation that isn’t normal for you and is accompanied by other symptoms such as intense jaw pain or chest pressure, call 000 immediately, as this may be a sign of heart attack.
- More than $10 billion; the amount spent on over the counter antacids worldwide each year.
- 15 to 20 per cent of Aussie adults experience heartburn twice a week.
- New PBS guidelines say prescription meds for heartburn should only be taken for between 4 to 8 weeks only, not forever!
- In a study from Iran, people whose diet was fruit and veg heavy had a 33 per cent lower risk of gastro-oesophageal disease.