Often used interchangeably, acid reflux and heartburn do in fact have different meanings. In short, acid reflux is the common condition whereby stomach acid enters the oesophagus, and heartburn is a resulting symptom in which a burning sensation can be felt in the chest. In this article, we will define each of these concepts, explain the causes, and outline how best to prevent and treat acid reflux and heartburn.
What causes acid reflux and heartburn?
Acid reflux occurs in a circular muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) that joins your oesophagus with your stomach. If this muscle is weak or doesn’t tighten properly, hydrochloric acid from the stomach can rise into your oesophagus, causing irritation of it’s lining. Whilst the stomach lining has adapted to be protected from this powerful acid, the oesophagus does not have the same protection. This process is often characterised by an acidic or bitter taste in the mouth, or sometimes heartburn.
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux, and despite its misleading name has nothing to do with one’s heart. Heartburn occurs during acid reflux where the stomach acid irritates the delicate lining of the oesophagus, typically causing a burning feeling in the chest. This pain can also be a sharp or tightening sensation, and some people may find this moves up to the neck and throat.
If you’re someone who frequently experiences acid reflux, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a chronic form of acid reflux. Changes to your diet and lifestyle are likely to ease GERD symptoms, although specific acid reflux medication is also available.
What are the risk factors of acid reflux?
Common factors that contribute to acid reflux and heartburn include:
- Being obese or overweight
- Eating or snacking just before going to sleep
- Bending over or lying down after eating
- Drinking beverages such as alcohol, tea, coffee, or carbonated drinks
- Having hiatal hernia
- Being pregnant
- Low levels of physical exercise
- Eating foods that are acidic, fatty or spicy, such as citrus fruits, chocolate and cheese
- Large meal portions
- A high intake of table salt
- A low fibre diet
How can you prevent acid reflux?
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be effectively prevented with clinically proven acid reflux medication. Prescription acid reflux treatments such as Omeprazole, Lansoprazole and Pantoprazole, are regarded as a more effective long term solution to over-the-counter acid reflux treatments; especially when it comes to prevention. Prescription acid reflux medications are known as ‘proton pump inhibitors’ (PPI’s), they work by disrupting the final stage in the process of acid reflux secretion. PPI’s inhibit the gastric proton pump responsible for producing stomach acid, rapidly helping to alleviate acid reflux for extended periods of time if taken regularly.
In addition to using clinically proven acid reflux medication, lifestyle changes can also be made to address some of the common risk factors of acid reflux. It is advisable to combine lifestyle changes with treatment to have a synergistic effect when it comes to treating acid reflux symptoms.
How can you treat heartburn?
As one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux, it’s important to know how to most effectively treat heartburn. Antacids such as Gaviscon Tablets, Gaviscon Liquid and Gaviscon Sachets are all effective at providing rapid relief from heartburn and indigestion. They work to neutralise stomach acid to help avoid pain and discomfort caused by acid reflux symptoms.
As mentioned above, heartburn can also be treated using prescription acid reflux medication such as Omeprazole, Lansoprazole and Pantoprazole. As ‘proton pump inhibitors’, these acid reflux medications help to prevent the secretion of stomach acid. They are a more long term solution to mitigating the onset of heartburn by preventing acid reflux occurring altogether
Other than medication, what else can help reduce heartburn?
Heartburn can be significantly reduced with changes to your lifestyle. Below are some of the most effective ways to reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux symptoms.
- Avoid foods that trigger acid reflux.
- Avoid lying down after eating a meal as this can trigger the onset of acid reflux.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol. These two unhealthy habits have been linked with contributing to the reduced function of the lower oesophageal sphincter.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to reduce the pressure applied to the abdomen and lower oesophageal sphincter.
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. This can help to reduce the pressure applied to the abdomen, reducing the level of stomach acid that may be forced back into the oesophagus.
Combining some of these easily implementable tips with clinically proven medication is an effective way to help reduce acid reflux and heartburn.