Whether you have indulged in an all-you-can-eat buffet or need a break from a Thanksgiving feast, the threat of heartburn is a common occurrence that strikes many. As your chest fills with the distinct pain associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD), it greatly differs from the occasional episode of heartburn. This is because GERD is a continual battle that has the power to affect some patients on a daily basis. Individuals suffering from frequent heartburn have a serious problem on their hands Ė one that calls for immediate medical attention.
What is GERD?
GERD is a disease where stomach acid (and sometimes bile) comes back (refluxes) into the esophagus, also known as the food pipe. When the damaging effects of acid continuously reach the lining of the esophagus, irritation is the result. It is the inflammation of the food pipe and surrounding areas that causes the discomfort, pain, and tenderness associated with GERD. While some individuals are able to control their heartburn by making changes in their life or filling up on over-the-counter medications, severe cases call for remedies that surpass temporary or partial assistance.
While one of the most common symptoms of GERD is heartburn, there are additional indications that you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease. Some of the signs and symptoms of GERD to be on the lookout for include :
a) Chest Pain:
A burning sensation may develop in the chest, especially as you lie down at night. In the worst cases, the pain may spread into the throat.
A patient may experience difficulty swallowing when suffering from GERD symptoms.
c) Food Regurgitation:
Food or sour liquid may become regurgitated, which often leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
d) Lung Difficulties:
An individual with GERD may experience coughing, wheezing, or even asthma attacks.
e) Sore Throat:
The throat may become sore when GERD strikes, which can also cause hoarseness.
f) Heart Pain:
Discomfort may arise in the heart, as excessive heaviness, pressure, weight, tightness, and squeezing occurs. A dull ache is also associated with GERD symptoms, most often after a session of activity.
Causes of GERD
Normal swallowing prompts the lower esophageal sphincter (a circular band of muscle surrounding the lower part of the esophagus) to relax and permit food and liquid to pass into the stomach. Once the process is complete, it closes.
Nonetheless, the valve has the potential to become weak or abnormally function, causing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. This is how frequent heartburn and other symptoms begin to take its toll on a person’s daily activities. The acid backup is more intense when in a bent-over or lying-down position.
The constant acid flow begins to irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing inflammation, which over time, is responsible for the erosion of the esophagus, bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus, difficulty swallowing, and even breathing problems. It is the esophageal irritation and inflammation that serves as main signs that your acid backup is GERD.
Some factors are also known to make the condition worse, including certain foods and beverages (spicy, fatty, and carbonated), alcohol, various medications (sedatives and calcium channel blockers), smoking tobacco, and consuming large meals .
Often, giving a description of your symptoms is all a doctor needs to make an accurate diagnosis of heartburn, but when the signs become increasingly severe or do not react to treatment, additional tests are needed. A doctor may conduct a barium X-ray, which produces a picture of the shape and condition of the esophagus, stomach and upper intestine. This is also where a hiatal hernia may show the cause of your heartburn. An endoscopy is sometimes performed, which uses a thin, lighted instrument to take images of the inside of the esophagus and stomach .
Additional tests may include an ambulatory acid (pH) probe (measures the pH of acid in the stomach and esophagus), upper gastrointestinal series (examines the upper part of the digestive system), or esophageal impedance (measures the amount of refluxed gas or liquids).
There are conditions and factors that increase a person’s risk of suffering from heartburn or GERD. Individuals may demonstrate the following obstacles:
Extra weight places an increase of pressure on the stomach and diaphragm. Consuming large portions or meals filled with fat will also produce the same effects.
Over the course of a pregnancy, a woman may experience increased pressure on the stomach. A higher production of progesterone (a hormone) also causes many muscles to relax, such as the lower esophageal sphincter, which allows the flow of acid to take place.
c) Hiatal Hernia:
When part of the stomach protrudes into the lower part of the chest, it is enough to worsen heartburn by promoting an additional weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
A complication of diabetes called gastroparesis, causes the stomach to take longer to empty. When the contents in the stomach are left to dwell for too long, acid may regurgitate into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
e) Peptic Ulcer:
The development of an open sore or scar located close to the stomach valve that controls the movement of food may cause stomach acid to accumulate and back up into the esophagus.
f) Abnormal Nerve or Muscle Function:
Acid backup into the esophagus may occur when delayed stomach emptying takes place.
Natural Cures for GERD
Untreated GERD may lead to an array of complications that can be thwarted through the use of natural cures. Some of the difficulties associated with GERD include esophageal narrowing (stricture), esophageal ulcers, and Barrett’s esophagus, a rare but serious complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Natural cures for GERD may include:
a) German Chamomile:
The flowers of this natural cure are known to calm the digestive system, as well as reduce inflammation within the digestive tract. Infusions are the best way to use German chamomile as a method of treatment.
Fennel seeds can be quite effective in treating the pains associated with cramping. The seeds make effective infusions and tinctures. When adding American cranesbill, acidity in the stomach is reduced. High doses of this natural cure should be avoided during pregnancy.
c) Lemon Balm:
The leaves of lemon balm provide relaxing and sedating results when taken as an infusion or tincture. To create an anti-inflammatory, mix lemon balm with chamomile or meadowsweet.
The aerial parts of peppermint can be used to stimulate the flow of bile, as well as settle a nervous stomach. To create an infusion, you may add 15 grams of dried herb to two cups of water. Breastfeeding mothers should know that this kind of treatment might cause their milk production and flow to slow down .
e) Meadowsweet Tea:
With a cooling and soothing effect, meadowsweet tea can ease inflammation and assist in the reduction of acid in the stomach. Tea using 25 grams of meadowsweet and 500 ml of water will help with heartburn and other symptoms of GERD .
Making changes to lifestyle habits and behaviors is a good way to prevent heartburn from becoming a constant problem. Controlling your weight is a great approach towards easing the onset of heartburn, as being overweight is a strong risk factor associated with GERD. To lessen the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, eating smaller meals is suggested.
After a full meal, loosening your belt or pants will help relieve some of the pressure placed on the abdomen and lower esophageal sphincter. After eating, you should refrain from stooping or bending that may come from activities, such as pulling weeds out of the yard. Lying down directly after a meal is known to increase the chances of suffering from heartburn Ė many people find waiting at least three to four hours before going to bed helps.
Smoking is known to increase stomach acid, which means kicking the habit helps reduce the risk of acid reflux (among other beneficial health results). Others fair well when they eliminate triggers known to cause heartburn, such as reducing their intake of fatty or fried foods, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, garlic, and onions.
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