May cause gastric acid pain
Heartburn - in Switzerland they say stomach ache more often - describes a burning pain behind the sternum that rises from the upper abdomen and sometimes extends to the neck and throat.
SymptomsHeartburn symptoms include:
- a burning pain behind the chest that usually begins in the upper part of the abdomen and extends up to the throat
- Stomach pressure or pain in the stomach
- Gag irritation, in which the contents of the stomach can get into the throat and mouth
- acid regurgitation
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
How does heartburn develop?Heartburn occurs when acid flows back from the stomach into the gullet (= esophagus) (= reflux). After the inclusion of z. B. Very fatty foods, a slight gastric acid reflux is normal. However, if the pain is more severe, persists for a long time or does not only occur occasionally in exceptional cases, this may be due to a malfunction of the closing mechanism between the stomach entrance and esophagus. Normally, the esophageal sphincter should allow food to slide into the stomach and, conversely, prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. A malfunction of the locking mechanism can occur due to age or changed physical conditions. A further cause may be a pumping dysfunction of the esophagus (dysmotility), which means that the esophagus is not adequately cleaned. Smoking is a common cause of heartburn. While smoking, the tension of the gastric sphincter muscle can decrease drastically, so that with heavy nicotine consumption the stomach contents can get unhindered into the esophagus. Any esophagus can tolerate a little stomach acid. If the mucous membrane is already irritated or damaged, the stomach acid can also lead to considerable discomfort. By the way, alcohol makes the problem worse.
Dangerous?Long-term, untreated irritation of the esophagus from gastric acid can lead to ulcers, which in the worst case can degenerate into esophageal cancer. In about 10% of cases with chronic heartburn, reflux disease can lead to so-called Barrett's esophagus, a change in the lining of the esophagus and thus an internal shortening of the esophagus. Barrett's syndrome increases the risk of causing or promoting cancer. In the case of Barrett's esophagus, a regular check-up by a gastroenterologist is useful. Sometimes the constant irritation can also cause scar tissue to narrow, narrowing the esophagus.
Alarm symptomsAlarm symptoms that require immediate endoscopic evaluation (gastroscopy) include swallowing disorders (dysphagia), painful swallowing (odynophagia), inexplicable weight loss, vomiting of blood and anemia.
therapyOccasional complaints can be remedied with the help of light drugs that neutralize stomach acid. In the case of severe or long-lasting heartburn, there is the option of reducing acid production for a longer period of time. So-called proton pump inhibitors are prescribed for this purpose. In rare cases, surgery is required to strengthen the function of the sphincter muscles in the lower esophagus (so-called fundoplication). Nowadays, this operation is usually carried out as a "keyhole operation" (= laparoscopic).
General tips for heartburn
- Drink water or milk to wash away the acid in your esophagus.
- Eat a small serving of raw sauerkraut, this can relieve the pain.
- Quit smoking
- Reduce your excess weight (studies show that people who are overweight are more likely to have heartburn).
- Eat less fat and carbohydrates.
- Refrain from alcohol.
- Reduce your coffee and tea consumption.
- Avoid juices that are highly acidic, such as orange juice.
- Eat five small servings a day rather than two to three large portions.
- Eat more alkaline foods like potatoes or yogurt.
- Relax. Worry and stress promote heartburn.
- If heartburn persists for several days or if the pain worsens, you should see your doctor to rule out other causes.
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