Problem Solved: Beat the Burn
Quick tips to help prevent acid reflux
Reflux occurs when partly digested food and acid flow back from your stomach into your oesophagus, causing the telltale burning sensation in your chest. It can resemble a heart attack -- hence it's called heartburn.
Normally, a muscle that acts like a valve between your stomach and the oesophagus (called the lower oesophageal sphincter, or LES) prevents the backwash of food from the gut. But when the LES is overwhelmed by pressure from your belly, it causes a reflux. If this condition becomes chronic (twice a week or more), it's called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can further cause symptoms such as a chronic cough, sore throat, hoarseness and chest pain. Severe acid reflux can injure the oesophagus, causing ulcers and strictures (narrowing of the oesophagus) and even oesophageal cancer.
What you can do
Mend your posture. "Sitting upright helps reduce symptoms as gravity prevents the reflux of gastric contents into the food pipe," says Dr Randhir Sud, chairman, Institute of Digestive & Hepatobiliary Sciences, Medanta-The Medicity, Gurugram. While sleeping, keep your head elevated, cushioning it with a pillow. That way, your oesophagus is optimally positioned to prevent acid from flowing back.
Avoid trigger foods. Caffeine, alcohol, chocolates, carbonated drinks, spicy and high-fat foods take longer to move through your digestive tract. This builds up pressure in your stomach, creating reflux symptoms. "Eating too fast and not chewing properly can make the symptoms worse," says Neelanjana Singh, Delhi-based nutritionist. "Gourds help prevent acid reflux; drink bottle gourd, ash gourd or beetroot juice. For acute symptoms drink 50 ml of cold milk," recommends Dr Issac Mathai, medical director, Soukya, Bengaluru.
Downsize your meals. "For easy digestion, have smaller, more frequent meals. Do keep a gap of two to three hours between your meal and bedtime,'' advises Singh.
Stay active. The more sedentary you are, the more you retard your gastric motility (the time it takes for food to pass through your system).
Try belly breathing. Practising deep breathing for 30 minutes a day can reduce the symptoms of reflux. Mathai recommends pranayama techniques like seetali and nadi shodhana.
Practise yoga. Stress is a known contributor and aggravator of acid reflux. "Yoga postures like pawanmuktasana, vajrasana, yoga mudrasana, viparitakarini and uddiyana bandha can help," says Mathai.
Antacids: These contain compounds that help buffer stomach acid and can provide relief for up to three hours. See a doctor if you are having to pop too many pills. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): "Available as omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole and ilaprazole, the PPIs work by reducing/suppressing the formation of acid in the stomach,'' says Sud. He explains, ''Generally, PPIs are prescribed for about four weeks, followed by smaller doses for some more time (if needed). To treat erosions PPIs are often prescribed for 8-12 weeks." Do consult a doctor to determine the right dosage and duration. Though PPIs are relatively safe drugs, prolonged consumption can increase the risk of intestinal infections and slow down calcium absorption. Experts also recommend lifestyle changes along with medication for long-term relief.
Prokinetics: These are prescribed to improve gastrointestinal function. They strengthen contractions in the small intestine.
Surgery: A laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery is the last option, "It benefits people who suffer from reflux of acid along with large volume of food, especially in cases where there is risk of the acid aspirating to the lungs," adds Sud.