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Dealing with heartburn


Dr. Olayide A. Jinadu, Medical Director at Charis-Med Hospital, Lagos enlightens on the problem of heartburn, its causes, how to manage and prevent it.

What is heartburn and what causes it?
Heartburn, a misnomer is regarded as a painful burning sensation or feeling experienced in the chest or along the throat. It is a misnomer, because it has nothing to do with the heart. It is described as heartburn because of the location where the pain is perceived by the sufferer. It occurs when the amount of gastric juice that refluxes (flows back) into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) exceeds the normal limit. Heartburn is usually an accompanying symptom of the condition GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It becomes frequent when it occurs as often as twice a week or more.

What are the symptoms?
Heartburn is a symptom of a disease as described above, characterised by pain and burning sensation close to where the heart is located. It is at times associated with a regurgitated salty-sour taste in the mouth and throat described as salt water brash. It is a common condition, which can occur in anyone. However, some people are more prone to heartburn than others, for example, pregnant women. This is as a result of the increase in the size of the uterus from the pelvis into the abdomen, pushing the acidic contents of the stomach back up through the esophagus. This can be relieved by eating less food frequently.


Are there certain foods that people should avoid, if they tend to experience heartburn often?
Acidic juice (oranges, pineapples and grapes), acidic foods (grapefruit, tomatoes), legumes like beans, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, chocolate, cigarette smoking, consumption of fatty foods. Some other things to avoid are drugs belonging to the class known as NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) for instance Diclofenac, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Mefanamic acid, Meloxicam. It should be noted that heartburns also occur frequently in some pregnant women, obese people and people with a condition known as hiatal hernia.

What are the treatment options?
The treatment entails a step-by-step approach. The goal to be achieved is to control symptoms to heal esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) and to prevent recurrent esophageal complications. The treatment options can be classified as lifestyle management, use of medication and surgical intervention.

What are lifestyles changes to follow?
Lifestyle modification are: avoid use of NSAIDS, weight loss, avoid alcohol, avoid chocolate, avoid peppermint, avoid spicy foods, avoid acidic juices, eat less food more frequently, waiting three hours after a meal before lying down, avoid bending and stooping. Use of medications prescribed by your doctor, for instance, antacids and proton pump inhibitors is advised. Surgical intervention is required in very extreme cases.

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