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Managing and preventing heartburn

Stop heartburn

Heartburn, reflux, indigestion; whatever you call it, the burning sensation as stomach acid finds its way back up the oesophagus is nasty stuff.

According to The Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) heartburn affects 20 per cent of Aussies every week and can be very distressing, requiring constant medication or surgery. Left untreated it can lead to more serious problems.

Geoff Hebbard, Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at The Royal Melbourne Hospital told ProChoice that the stomach acid rises because the valve at the bottom of the oesophagus is not working properly.

Hebberd also described a hiatus hernia – when the top of the stomach slips up into the chest, often after a large meal or during pregnancy – as also causing heartburn.

He said exercise too soon after eating, fatty and spicy foods as well as acidic drinks such as orange juice, coffee and cola along with cigarettes and alcohol may exacerbate the problem that is more prevalent in males and people who are overweight – although he stressed that causes and symptoms vary.

GESA states that heartburn is not cause for alarm unless it is causing weight loss, difficulty or pain when swallowing or vomiting – especially when there is blood in it.

Treatment for heartburn is effective and safe, with antacids that neutralise the stomach acid widely available and described by Hebbard as temporarily helping symptoms.

“They help the heartburn but they only act for a relatively short period of time,” he said.

“Where people are having repeated and frequent symptoms they should see a GP.”

Stronger treatment includes over-the-counter pharmacy medication that reduces the amount of acid the stomach produces while prescription-only medication is also available.

Drinking water can help reduce the symptoms and for those who suffer reflux at night, sleeping with the head elevated will help, according to Hebbard.

However he said the best way to reduce the occurrence of heartburn is to avoid the foods that contribute to it, as well as losing weight and stopping smoking where relevant.