Spring 2016 | cbservices.org

Christian Brothers Services
Inside This Issue:
Font Decrease   Font Increase
Heartburn Help!

antacidMore than 60 million people experience heartburn at least once a month.  Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), but not everyone with acid reflux has heartburn, and not everyone with heartburn has acid reflux.  Acid reflux is when the stomach acid splashes up from the stomach into the esophagus, and heartburn is the symptom one feels when the acid splashes up and out of the stomach. Heartburn causes a burning sensation in the chest, just behind the breastbone.  The pain will often rise up in the chest, and could even radiate to the neck, throat or angle of the jaw.

The majority of people who suffer with heartburn will have similar symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • A burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours.
  • Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down or eating.
  • Burning in the throat -- or hot, sour, acidic or salty-tasting fluid at the back of the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Feeling of food "sticking" in the middle of the chest or throat.
  • Heartburn may cause chronic cough, sore throat or chronic hoarseness.

Although heartburn symptoms may be similar from person to person, heartburn triggers vary.  Some obvious triggers are chili dogs, chocolate cake, large Thanksgiving meals, etc., but there are a lot of other sneaky triggers that are easily overlooked that can cause bad cases of heartburn.

If there was ever a reason to quit, this could be it. Smoking weakens the valve between the stomach and esophagus, causing the stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, which in turn causes fat-digesting bile salts to migrate from the small intestine.  This cuts down on saliva, which normally flushes stomach acid out of the esophagus and contains a natural acid-fighter, bicarbonate.  

When used frequently, medicines such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can trigger heartburn.  Prescription drugs as well, including antibiotics, calcium channel blockers, bronchodilators such as albuterol, osteoporosis drugs and select sedatives can aggravate heartburn. Before stopping a drug that you think is causing heartburn, consult your doctor first.

Fish Oil Supplements
For years, we’ve heard about the benefits of taking fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids.  Fish oil has been hailed as a natural way to manage heart disease, depression and other health conditions, but it is also a leading source of heartburn. The oil in the supplement is the heartburn culprit.  Fish itself is low in fat and high in protein, and when cooked in a heartburn soothing recipe, can be just as beneficial as taking the supplement. 

Stress does seem to trigger heartburn, but not an off-the-charts surge in stomach acid. It has been suggested that a heartburn patient’s perception of his symptoms are associated with stress.  It seems that the more stressed you are, the more aware you become of your heartburn symptoms.

In the past, peppermint tea, peppermint oil supplements and peppermint candies were used to settle upset stomachs.  Unfortunately, these remedies can backfire on people with heartburn issues.  The soothing effect of the menthol in peppermint tends to relax the valve that separates the stomach and the esophagus, which can cause stomach acids to travel up the esophagus more easily, causing heartburn. 

Being Overweight
The risk of heartburn increases along with body mass index. Reasons for this vary from poor eating habits, excess body fat in the abdomen and the chemicals released by body fat, to name a few.  It also seems that this association with heartburn and weight is stronger in women than men.  

Your Genes
Genes can play a large role when determining what is causing your heartburn.  It has been determined that anywhere between 30 percent to 45 percent of your risk for heartburn is dependent on genetic factors.  This link could be due to inherited physical traits, such as abnormalities in stomach function or a hypersensitivity to stomach acids.   

Please consult your physician if you are having heartburn symptoms and need relief.  Treatments can range anywhere between over-the-counter remedies to surgery. Reporting your symptoms to your physician is usually all that is needed for your doctor to make a diagnosis of heartburn.  He or she may also perform special tests to determine the severity of your problem. These tests could include an upper endoscopy in which your doctor uses a thin scope with a light and camera at its tip to look inside your upper digestive system.  The upper endoscopy is more effective and accurate than x-rays for detecting abnormalities and examining the upper digestive system, and most procedures take between 15 and 30 minutes.   

To help understand your condition more thoroughly, here’s a list of questions from WebMD to help prepare you for your next appointment:

1)         Is my case relatively mild or severe?
2)         What lifestyle changes do you recommend for me?
3)         Should I be taking over-the-counter medicines? If so, which ones?
4)         Do I need prescription medicine?
5)         If so, what side effects can I expect?
6)         What should I do if the medicines don’t seem to help?
7)         Do I show any signs of esophagitis?
8)         Should I be examined for esophageal cancer?
9)         Will I need such exams in the future?
10)       Would surgery be appropriate to treat my symptoms?