Constant heartburn affects millions of people. It can be quite manageable for some people, but a heavy burden to bear for others. Most of us experience a light case of indigestion from time to time, usually after a large meal. Chronic heartburn sufferers, however, are those who have at least three bouts a week.
Heartburn is sometimes referred to as indigestion or acid reflux. It would be bad enough if those who suffered it only had to deal with the immediate pain and discomfort associated with it. Unfortunately, chronic t heartburn can be much more serious that than. Frequent incidence of this condition over a long period of time can lead to many other long-term problems, including cancer.
Constant Heartburn Symptoms
The symptoms associated with chronic heartburn are the typical ones associated with any type of heartburn or acid reflux. These include:
- A burning sensation in the chest, usually just behind the breastplate, is the most common symptom.
- Often people complain of a sour taste in their mouth or at the back of their throat. This symptom is frequently accompanied by bad breath.
- Some experience difficulty swallowing.
- Coughing can occur as a result of irritation in the back of the throat caused by stomach acid rising up into the esophagus.
What are the Causes of Chronic Heartburn?
The most common cause of recurrent heartburn is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux. Acid reflux is simply when stomach acid backs up (refluxes) into the esophagus. This can occur when the stomach is full of food, or when it is full of acid needed to break down the food being digested. GERD, however, indicates a condition wherein the stomach regularly produces more acid than is needed. This leads to frequent heartburn.
Natural Remedies of Constant Heartburn
Many of the treatments for chronic heartburn are the same as for regular heartburn. However, it is more common to need medical help in treating chronic forms of this problem. It is critical that you visit your doctor to discuss options if you do suffer from constant heartburn.
Adjusting what you eat can make a difference in your recurrent indigestion. Cutting out or reducing carbonated drinks, acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes, fried and fatty foods, and caffeine will help, as these all contribute to the over-production of stomach acid. It is also a good idea to reduce the amount of aspirin or other pain killers you take, if you take them regularly.
Drinking lots of water throughout the day is beneficial to the digestive tract. If you are a milk drinker you should switch to skim or 1% instead of 2% or whole milk. The higher the fat content in the milk the more it will stimulate acid production. On the other hand, skim milk acts as a temporary buffer that can soothe the stomach and reduce heartburn symptoms.
Lifestyle changes Can Reduce Heartburn Frequency and Intensity
Certain health conditions and eating habits may contribute to stomach pain and discomfort. Losing weight, for example, can completely eliminate chronic heartburn is people who are overweight. The extra fatty tissue in the abdomen of an overweight person applies pressure to the stomach, which increases the occurrence of heartburn.
Although difficult, quitting smoking and reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption will definitely make a big impact on getting over constant heartburn.
A simple adjustment to make is to adjust the way you eat. Instead of eating three larger meals each day you should break up the food you eat into five-six smaller meals and snacks. Also, make sure you finish your last meal at least three hours before bed time. Take smaller bites of food and chew each bite more thoroughly to aid in the digestion process and reduce the need for stomach acid to further break down your food.
If heartburn affects you during the night you can help reduce this by elevating the head of your bed a few inches. It is important to create this elevation by raising the bed or the mattress. Just adding more pillows will not have the desired effect. Raising the head of the bed will not only reduce nighttime heartburn but also prevents snoring.
If you can correlate your constant heartburn with a stressful event in your life you can probably prevent your heartburn to some extent by finding ways to better handle that stress.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications for Chronic Heartburn
The above mentioned remedies are often enough to eliminate heartburn for most occasional sufferers. Unfortunately, for chronic heartburn cases lifestyle changes and natural remedies are often not enough. This is where medications come in.
Before considering medications as a permanent treatment, however, you should consider the following:
The AGA recommends you see your doctor if:
- Your heartburn occurs three or more times per week
- Your heartburn has been a problem for four or more years
- You have been using OTC medications for a long time to treat your heartburn
- You have been using more than the regular dosage of any heartburn treatment
- You are unable to find relief from your symptoms regardless what remedies or medications you try.
There are at least three different kinds of medications used to treat heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion
- Antacids – These are the most common used as they provide immediate relief for occasional heartburn. The most popular brands are Maalox, Rolaids and Tums. All of these are available over the counter. They are usually not enough for those who endure chronic heartburn, however.
- Acid Blockers – This kind of medication prevents the body from producing too much stomach acid. They are not as fast-acting as antacids. On the plus side, they usually last for several hours. They are most effective when taken 30-60 minutes before eating. Over the counter brands include Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac. Some of these also come in prescription strength forms, available only with your doctor’s permission.
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) – In the walls of your stomach there are tiny proton pumps that produce the stomach acid used to digest food. PPI medications shut these pumps down to greatly reduce the amount of acid produced. This is usually the next line of treatment doctors will prescribe, if acid blockers are not effective enough. Also, those who have erosions in their esophagus from GERD will usually be prescribe a PPI drug. Prilosec is the most notable over the counter version of this kind of medication. There is also a prescription-strength Prilosec, along with Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid and Protonix.
- A couple other medications that many find helpful are Reglan and Gaviscon. Reglan is a prescription drug that speeds up the rate of stomach emptying. This keeps the food moving through before there is a chance for acid to back up into the esophagus. Gaviscon is available over the counter. It is a combination drug, using an antacid for quick relief and also creating a foam barrier that prevents further acid from refluxing into the esophagus.
Even though there are a number of over the counter drugs available for treating heartburn, it is best not to take any drug on a regular basis without consulting your doctor. At the very least your doctor needs to know that you suffer from constant heartburn so he or she can help you to find the best treatments possible.