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Do you often suffer from acid reflux? This is a classic symptom of heartburn. You might also suffer from difficulty swallowing and upper abdominal discomfort, pain behind the sternum, coughing or hoarseness and, in rare cases, nausea and vomiting. Occasional heartburn after eating too much is harmless. But if it occurs more often, you should always see your GP and find out why it is happening.
Heartburn can have various causes
Acid reflux of the stomach contents into the oesophagus occurs when the sphincter between the oesophagus and stomach does not function correctly. There can be many reasons for this. The table below lists the most frequent causes.
Possible causes of heartburn
|Excessive consumption of alcohol, coffee and/or nicotine||Alcohol relaxes the sphincter and stimulates the production of stomach acid, as do coffee and nicotine.|
|Fatty, sweet, acidic or very spicy foods and very hot or very cold foods||This stimulates the production of stomach acid.|
|Heavy food such as pulses, cabbage, hard-boiled eggs, fresh bread, onions, roasted and deep-fried food||These foods stay in the stomach for a long time and therefore increase the pressure on the sphincter.|
|Large, over-lavish meals||The stomach produces a lot of acid, is full to bursting and therefore presses harder on the sphincter.|
|Pregnancy||The womb presses on the stomach, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy.|
|Excess weight||The excess pounds put pressure on the stomach with the result that the sphincter can no longer contract properly.|
|Long-term stress||This can cause stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, to accumulate, which results in stomach cramps and too much acid being produced|
|Certain medications||Psychotropic drugs or pain relievers, for example, can relax the sphincter or aggravate heartburn.|
|Medical problems such as hiatus hernia, chronic indigestion and neuromuscular complaints||These can disrupt the function of the sphincter.|
Keep a diary of your stomach troubles
Keeping a diary of your stomach troubles is useful when it comes to discovering what triggers your symptoms. Note down every day for a week when your heartburn occurs. What and how much had you eaten and drunk beforehand? Had you been stressed or taken medication? Or does any other reason occur to you? In this way you can tell whether the circumstances which cause the heartburn are always the same, and thus you can take specific action to avoid it. If the pain is severe and frequent, you should take your symptoms diary to your GP. This will help him or her to recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
The right diet can prevent and help heartburn
With slight heartburn, it often helps to change your diet. Spread out your daily food intake over several small meals. This relieves the pressure on the sphincter. Five to six meals a day have been shown to help. Eat slowly and not too late at night – this means the food has already been digested before going to bed and the food does not flow back into the oesophagus. Sleep with the upper body somewhat raised – this also reduces the risk of reflux occurring. Look at the table above and avoid heavy foods and those which stimulate acid production in the stomach. Strongly acidic citrus fruits, wine, fizzy water and sparkling wine should also be avoided. Opt instead for non-carbonated mineral and spring water to quench your thirst, such as Nestlé Pure Life, as well as unsweetened camomile, caraway or fennel tea.