The pain and discomfort of reflux is familiar to many people – particularly after eating a large or rich meal. Heartburn with or without regurgitation of gastric contents into the mouth is the most common symptom of reflux.
Reflux is probably the most common gastrointestinal disorder. Its presence indicates incompetence of the lower oesophageal sphincter.
Heartburn, the most common symptom, is discomfort, often burning in character, which rises from the upper abdomen towards or into the throat; the pain can also radiate into the neck, or even face. Discomfort typically starts 30-60 minutes after eating.
Regurgitation of gastric contents into the mouth.
Difficulty swallowing in more severe cases.
Symptoms are often worse when lying down or bending over.
Over-eating, obesity and pregnancy can lead to discomfort associated with reflux.
Other major contributors to reflux and heartburn include eating too quickly and while stressed; eating rich foods or foods that are difficult to digest. Obesity, alcohol, coffee, and carbonated beverages all have a part to play in causing heartburn. Some prescription medications can also increase reflux.
Chronic heartburn (i.e. heartburn which occurs frequently over a long period) should be investigated, as it could be associated with hiatus hernia, peptic ulcer disease or cancer of the oesophagus or stomach.
Slippery elm coats the mucous membranes of the stomach and oesophagus with a protective lining that forms a barrier against stomach acid.
Peppermint has a local antispasmodic action in the upper and lower digestive tracts, relieving pain, discomfort and flatulence associated with overindulgence.
Acidophilus balances natural gut flora, to help maintain optimum levels of friendly intestinal flora which assist and promote proper digestive function.
Digestive enzymes are available in supplement form to help your body to break down foods better.
Bitter herbs such as Gentian, Dandelion root and Globe Artichoke improve stomach function by signalling the stomach to start production of gastric acid.
Don’t over-eat. Divide your meals into well-spaced nutritionally balanced meals with plenty of fibre and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Take time to eat your food slowly and chew it thoroughly. Bolting down your food means that the stomach does not have time to secrete the digestive juices needed for its breakdown. Additionally, chewing well allows enzymes in the saliva to commence digestion before the food reaches the stomach.
Stress decreases the amount of energy your body has available for digestion. Try not to eat when you are anxious or angry, as it will be harder for your stomach to break the food down.
Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes can adversely affect the digestive system.
The best prevention for indigestion is to avoid over-eating, and to relax during and after mealtimes.
Eat lots of fresh foods, particularly kiwifruit, pineapple and paw paw, and take a digestive enzyme supplement if you have eaten a heavy meal.
Drink lots of fluids during the day (filtered water is best), but try not to drink too much with meals, as this can dilute the body’s digestive secretions.
Indigestion that regularly occurs following certain foods may indicate a food allergy. Try keeping a symptom diary to help you pinpoint the cause.
If you experience indigestion regularly or for a period of more than six hours, consult your doctor.
If you experience pain that feels like indigestion but extends down your arm, possibly associated with difficulty breathing, seek medical advice immediately.