Acid reflux is a familiar symptom of indigestion and normally occurs due to an excessive amount of gastric acid. This acid can be tolerated by the stomach but sometimes it can escape up the oesophagus, causing irritation and pain. Here, our digestive expert Ali Cullen describes why some people are prone to acid reflux and how the symptoms can be reduced using herbal remedies or self-help solutions.
Indigestion is one of the more common health problems encountered. Symptoms will be familiar to most of us – for instance, after eating a bit too much. This is ‘normal indigestion’.
However, some people experience more regular bouts of indigestion to the extent that it becomes a health problem. A number of symptoms can be experienced and one of the most common is heartburn caused by acid reflux.
This page describes heartburn and acid reflux in relation to the digestive system and indigestion.
Indigestion is basically a disturbance to the normal digestive process taking place in the stomach and first part of the digestive system.
When food is eaten, the stomach secretes two types of fluid:
Gastric enzymes, needed to break down food
Gastric acid, required to help gastric enzymes work better
As you will know, acid is an irritant, but the stomach is able to tolerate its own secretions because of a special type of cell lining the stomach walls.
There are times however, when the acidic contents of the stomach escape backwards and upwards into the gullet (oesophagus) - this is known as acid reflux. The gullet does not possess the same special cells as the stomach, and as a consequence, acid starts to irritate the lining, giving rise to inflammation and pain.
As the gullet lies next to the heart, the origin of the pain can sometimes be mistaken for coming from the heart as with a heart-attack or angina. This is why we have the term ‘heartburn’.
On the other hand, pain from the heart can also be mistaken for indigestion – so if your symptoms of indigestion are severe and persistent, or accompanied by difficulty breathing or pain down one or both arms, seek medical advice urgently.
Acid reflux and heartburn are more likely to affect you when you:
Have eaten too much - an overfilled stomach can ‘leak’ and cause the acidic contents to work their way back (reflux) into the gullet
Have eaten certain foods - fatty and spicy foods tend to make the problem worse
Bend down or lie down - this is simply the effect of gravity. When you stand, the bottom of the gullet is higher than the stomach making it more difficult for acid reflux to occur
Are overweight - this increases the pressure inside the abdominal cavity making it more likely for food to be forced up into the gullet
Are pregnant - heartburn is a common complaint during the 3rd part of pregnancy due to an increase in pressure inside the abdomen from the unborn baby. This is the same mechanism seen when being overweight.
Have certain medical conditions - these include hiatus hernia and oesophageal sphincter incompetence.
Many instances of heartburn are one-off episodes never to return again. Others resolve after the implementation of a few simple changes to diet and lifestyle. However, there are some people who are troubled by the symptom on a regular basis.
A class of herbs known as ‘stomach bitters’ have been used to help improve digestive function for decades. They deal with indigestion symptoms by helping the stomach digest food better.
Ali's TOP TIP:Digestisan drops contain artichoke, dandelion, boldo and peppermint – all stomach bitters. Best taken in liquid form, 5 to 10 minutes before each meal.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines for indigestion such as antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors.
Seek advice from your doctor if you have unexplained digestion symptoms, if they worsen and become severe or do not improve with treatment. Also, seek help urgently if you notice any blood in your stool or vomit.
Hello. My name is Alison Cullen and I am an experienced nutritional therapist with a clinic in Ayrshire, Scotland. I currently combine running my clinic with the role of Education Manager for A Vogel. I lecture, train and write extensively on health issues, which I find endlessly fascinating.
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