Occasional heartburn is known to almost every third person in this country. But in many cases the symptoms become chronic, i.e. they last for years. Then there is a risk of developing cancer.
A sharp, burning pain that rises from the upper abdomen toward the throat : 35 percent of sufferers experience such discomfort regularly – at least once a week or even more frequently. It is particularly bad after eating, when lying down, bending over or during physical exertion.
Typical symptoms of heartburn
A strong burning sensation behind the breastbone is the leading symptom of reflux disease. In some cases, you may even feel like you can’t breathe anymore. Because the esophagus lies close to the heart, sufferers often think that the pain originates there – which is why heartburn is also known as "heartburn" in English (heartburn). It is not uncommon for reflux sufferers to end up at the doctor’s office or in the hospital as an emergency with a suspected heart attack. Chest pain must always be investigated – and until proven otherwise, it must be assumed that it could be due to heart disease. But if the examinations do not find any indication, then you should think about the stomach.
Belching, stomach pressure or a feeling of fullness are frequent side effects of reflux disease. Some people hardly feel any heartburn, but suffer from a cough or hoarseness in the morning or have to clear their throat very frequently. Difficulty swallowing, air swallowing, and a bad taste in the mouth may also indicate the disease.
Diagnosis: mirror examination and acid measurement
During the medical examination, it is first clarified where exactly the pain is located and when it occurs. The living and eating habits are asked, because they play a major role in heartburn. If reflux disease is suspected, the doctor will arrange for an endoscopy of the esophagus and stomach (gastroscopy) in order to examine the esophagus for signs of inflammation, burns (erosions), narrowing and tumors using a tube camera. If necessary, tissue samples will be taken during this process.
Internists can also perform a long-term acid measurement in the esophagus: Reflux disease can be reliably diagnosed with so-called 24-hour pH metry. Today, the measurement is usually performed catheter-free, i.e. without the need for a tube to be placed over the entire measurement time.
Cause of heartburn: Stomach acid attacks esophagus
Stomach acid is the cause of the pain. The esophagus is a muscular tube that transports food into the stomach. Once there, it is broken down with the help of gastric juices, which contain highly corrosive hydrochloric acid. The stomach lining protects the stomach from the acid. However, if food pulp gets past the upper sphincter of the stomach and back into the esophagus, the stomach acid attacks the unprotected wall of the esophagus. This is what causes the burning sensation.
In the long run, the esophagus is damaged by acidity. Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) can develop, leading to ulcers and scarring if left untreated. A possible complication – in about ten percent of cases – is the so-called Barrett’s syndrome, in which the tissue of the esophagus undergoes inflammatory transformation – a precursor to cancer.
Why stomach acid flows into the esophagus
Acute heartburn is often triggered by the stomach producing too much acid or emptying too slowly. After eating, so-called "acid pockets" can form in the upper part of the stomach are produced, which lie on top of the food pulp. Lush, sweet, fatty or acidic foods, alcohol and caffeinated beverages have a negative effect.
Another reason for reflux of gastric juice is often weakness of the sphincter muscle. Nicotine can reduce muscle tension, as can certain medications. Hormones can also reduce the tension, which is why pregnant women often have a problem with heartburn – in addition, the growing child presses on the stomach. Too tight clothing and stress are other factors.
Prevent heartburn with the right diet
Relief is often provided by changing eating habits according to the anti-reflux plan. Important for heartburn: eat four to five small meals instead of two or three large ones. In addition, a lot of protein, for example dairy products, white meat, nuts or legumes. A high consumption of finished products and fast food has a harmful effect. Those who often eat under stress are therefore doubly at risk.
Cravings for sweets can be banished by bitter drops: drizzle on the back of the hand, sniff – the appetite is blown away.
Natural acid protection remedies
To protect the esophagus and stomach lining, a flaxseed infusion, a "KuKaLeiWa"-Decoction or a chamomile rolling cure contribute.
A digestive walk is a proven home remedy. Four hours before going to bed, you should not eat any more, and when sleeping, you should elevate your upper body a little higher. Smoking is a significant risk factor and should definitely be stopped. Overweight people relieve their stomach when they lose weight. It also makes sense to reduce stress – whether through sports or a differently organized daily routine – and to wear clothing that is as comfortable as possible.
Treating heartburn with medication
If the mucous membrane of the esophagus is already inflamed, it may be necessary in individual cases to reduce the acidity of the reflux with prescription medication. Acid inhibitors, so-called proton pump inhibitors (PPI), are used for this purpose. Over-the-counter medications from the pharmacy either bind the stomach acid (antacids) or hinder the new production of stomach acid (H2 receptor antagonists). However, all these medications are only suitable for temporary relief due to their not inconsiderable side effects.