Acid reflux and heartburn

Heartburn as a symptom of acid reflux

Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
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An introduction to acid reflux and heartburn

‘Heartburn’ is a commonly used phrase – if you’ve been in the company of someone having eaten their dinner too fast, or a heavily pregnant woman, you might have heard them complain about heartburn – but what exactly is this? In severe cases, people can even worry that they are having a heart attack as the pain is so extreme. But more often than not, heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux.

Acid reflux is the result of the acidic contents of the stomach travelling backwards and upwards into the oesophagus, normally as the result of the improper functions of our lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). The LOS is a circular ring of muscle which acts as the gateway between our oesophagus and our stomach. In theory, this muscle should open to allow food into the stomach, but should close in order to prevent food from travelling backwards. However, a number of factors and situations can allow for the improper functioning of this sphincter and we end up with what we call acid reflux.

How does acid reflux cause heartburn?

If the highly acidic contents of our stomach travel into our oesophagus, it is inevitable we are going to experience pain – what we call heartburn. 

The reason being, our oesophagus isn’t as prepared as our stomach – in that it doesn’t have a robust mucous layer to help protect it from low pH contents. Our stomach has a pH of around 3-4 by the time our highly acidic stomach acid is diluted slightly by other secretions – but the specialised cells and structures within the stomach are very much equipped to deal with this. Our oesophagus, not so much, and the more delicate lining here will soon come under fire, quite literally.

What can I try at home for heartburn?

There are some steps you can take at home to try and keep symptoms the symptoms of acid reflux, such as heartburn, under control:

How can herbal remedies help me?

There are some herbal remedies which may come in useful for instances of heartburn:

How can my doctor help?

If heartburn is recurrent, your doctor of pharmacist should be able to help. Antacid medication may help to address some of the discomfort in the short-term but be prepared to keep an eye on your symptoms longer-term.

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Did you know?

Acid reflux at night is an all-too-common problem, contributing to an estimated 7% of sleepless nights, which can lead to fatigue, increased anxiety or concentration lapses the following day.

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