Heartburn: causes and tips
Heartburn is the burning sensation in the upper stomach area that affects many people occasionally. The complaints are often accompanied by belching and a feeling of fullness. Health experts explain how heartburn occurs, what can be done about it and when it indicates possible underlying diseases.
Constant burping or pain when swallowing: Heartburn affects many people and has many facets. Sometimes a glass of water can alleviate the symptoms. But it is not always enough. There is a burning pain behind the breastbone: heartburn is very uncomfortable. Experts speak of reflux disease when symptoms persist for longer. But what's behind it? And how do people get it under control?
Lack of tension in the muscles
The cause of heartburn is usually found in the area where the esophagus passes into the stomach muscles. In healthy people, it only opens and closes when they eat or drink something - or briefly when they belch. However, if the muscle's ability to contract decreases in the area, acid gastric juice can flow back. This usually manifests itself as a burning sensation behind the breastbone.
Occasional heartburn rather harmless
"Some people have episodic heartburn, for example on vacation or after a hearty meal," explains Professor Herbert Koop from the German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases (DGVS). That is harmless and will go away again.
Drink water and go for a walk
Sometimes a simple trick helps against the symptoms. "In acute heartburn, it is often sufficient to drink a large glass of water in the short term," explains Ursula Sellerberg from the Federal Chamber of Pharmacies. "This way, the stomach acid is flushed back out of the esophagus into the stomach." Milk binds the acid a bit better, but it's really just about the flushing movement - and water is also guaranteed.
"In the case of sporadic heartburn, we recommend going for a walk after eating." You should not lie down because the gastric juice can flow back into the esophagus more easily when lying down. Therefore, another piece of advice is to sleep with an elevated headboard. It is best to lie on the left side, according to the pharmacist. Because of the stomach curvature, the gastric juice does not flow back into the esophagus so easily.
Pregnant women are often affected
Expectant mothers often suffer from heartburn. In the later stage of pregnancy, for example, the uterus expands and pushes the stomach upwards, as the professional association of gynecologists explains. This can cause its entry to leak and gastric acid to be pushed into the esophagus - especially if you have eaten a little more. This type of heartburn and reflux is classic during pregnancy and usually returns to normal after childbirth as if nothing had happened.
Eating, clothing, relaxing - tips for prevention
Heartburn can be prevented with a few rules, explains pharmacist Sellerberg. "Eat several small meals a day instead of a few large ones." Low-fat, protein-rich meals such as curd or lean meat are easier to digest than high-fat ones. In the evening you eat as little as possible so that your stomach is almost empty when you fall asleep. Ideally, there is a three hour gap between dinner and bedtime. It also helps to avoid tight fitting or constricting clothing. Exercise and relaxation techniques also prevent stress and heartburn.
Acid blockers help - but not always
If the heartburn is very disturbing, treatment with acid-inhibiting drugs from the group of proton pump inhibitors (PPI) is an option. Some of these are available in pharmacies without a prescription. "These so-called acid blockers reduce the acid production of the stomach and raise the pH value of the stomach contents - and thus also the pH value of what flows back into the esophagus," explains Koop.
The drugs did not have any relevant side effects. "Nevertheless, you should only take it if you really need it." And if you have taken it for a certain period of time, you should definitely try to omit it. Morbid heartburn is referred to by doctors as gastroesophageal reflux disease. All information on this clinical picture can be found in the article "Reflux - causes, symptoms, treatment". (vb; source: dpa / tmn)