7 ways to get heartburn relief
Maybe you've just eaten, or finished a meal an hour or so ago — and now your stomach just doesn't "feel right." You feel bloated and uncomfortable. Or maybe it's more of a burning sensation. Maybe you feel queasy, or even throw up. You might say you have an "upset stomach" or indigestion. If there is no known medical cause for your symptoms, your doctor would call it "dyspepsia" or "bad digestion."
Indigestion is real. The medical term for persistent upper abdominal pain or discomfort without an identifiable medical cause is functional dyspepsia. The symptoms can come and go at any time, but often eating is the trigger. Sometimes the discomfort begins during the meal; other times, about half an hour later.
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If you suffer from functional dyspepsia, you're not alone. Roughly 25% of the population is affected, and it hits men and women equally. It's responsible for a significant percentage of visits to primary care doctors, in part because many people worry they might have an ulcer. While it's frustrating that the cause of functional dyspepsia is unknown, it's even more frustrating that there is no surefire cure.
The good news is that there are simple things you can try to help get some heartburn relief:
- Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
- Eat small portions and don't overeat; try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, and be sure to chew food slowly and completely.
- Avoid activities that result in swallowing excess air, such as smoking, eating quickly, chewing gum, and drinking carbonated beverages.
- Reduce your stress. Try relaxation therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, or exercise. An aerobic workout 3-5 times per week can help, but don't exercise right after eating.
- Get enough rest.
- Don't lie down within two hours of eating.
- Keep your weight under control.
For more on diagnosing and treating indigestion, buy The Sensitive Gut, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
When to seek a doctor's help for heartburn
For many people suffering from heartburn, watching what they eat, over-the-counter medications, and stress reduction can bring relief. But when symptoms don't improve and start to interfere with sleep or daily life, it is time to get your doctor's help.
Your doctor will ask detailed questions about the nature and pattern of your pain.
- Is it worse after you eat a heavy meal or eat certain food, such as high-fat foods or dairy products?
- Does bending over to tie your shoelaces or lying down aggravate the symptoms?
- Does the pain seem linked to anxiety or stress?
If your symptoms are typical for gastroesophageal reflux (GERD, or simply, reflux), the first step is usually to try a medication such as omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid). If symptoms improve, you can switch to a less powerful medication. That might be an H2-receptor antagonist (H2 blocker) such as cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac), or famotidine (Pepcid), or an antacid like Tums.
If, however, medication doesn't seem to help, your doctor might suggest some tests to confirm reflux or rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.
Be aware that reflux symptoms can be similar to heart attack symptoms. If what you feel is more like a constriction or pressure rather than burning, call your doctor. Even if you know you have reflux, always seek medical attention if you experience chest discomfort brought on by exercise. Pay attention to the severity and length of your chest pain. Severe, pressing, or squeezing discomfort, especially if it lasts a while, also warrants a call to your doctor.
For more on diagnosing and treating a sensitive gut, buy The Sensitive Gut, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
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