How to ease the pain of heartburn

From cutting certain foods out of your diet to using medication, there are plenty of simple ways to tackle heartburn.

Reflux – commonly known as heartburn – affects one in five Australian adults and can be a very distressing condition, says Prof Mark Morgan, of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn happens when acid that is made in the stomach leaks back up the oesophagus and irritates the lining of the oesophagus.

Often, simple dietary changes can fix the problem.

But Prof Morgan warns it is important to take reflux seriously, as sometimes it can be a sign of something more serious including cancer.

6 strategies to tackle acid reflux

1. Look at your diet

People react differently to foods, so often finding the culprit and removing it from the menu is the first step, says naturopath Genevieve Mlotkowski.

“Coffee is a really common one, and tomatoes,” she says.

“It could be gluten or the yeast in bread and sometimes people say they have problems with citrus fruits.”

Genevieve recommends keeping a food diary to identify any possible sensitivities.

Some naturopaths will also recommend blood and hair tests, but studies say the results are not definitive and this mode of testing is not widely supported by the medical industry.

2. Pay attention at mealtimes

People with reflux should practise mindful eating, says Genevieve.

“A lot of people eat in front of the TV or at their desk at work, so they actually don’t realise what or how fast they are eating,” she says.

Taking time to eat meals away from distractions and slowing down will help your digestive system.

Breathing exercises that strengthen the diaphragm, can also help alleviate symptoms.

Meanwhile, Prof Morgan says eating too much is also a common cause of heartburn, especially before bed – so try smaller dinners.

3. Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol

Studies have found cigarettes exacerbate heartburn either by decreasing pressure in the oesophagus or by increasing coughing which helps acid escape the stomach.

Prof Morgan and Genevieve say it is also worth cutting out alcohol, or at least experimenting to see whether your symptoms are worse with beer, wine or spirits.

4. Get to a healthy weight

Losing a few kilograms means more weight off your stomach, making it less likely acid will be pushed into the oesophagus.

In a UK study, 81 per cent of patients who lost weight reported a reduction of symptoms.

5. Investigate medicinal and herbal options

“Medicines can be taken that reduce the amount of acid made in the stomach,” says Prof Morgan.

Speak to your GP first, but these antacids are generally considered safe for short-term use and help neutralise acid.

Genevieve says it is also worth trying herbal teas including ginger, peppermint and chamomile, or a digestive enzyme.

6. Surgery

In extreme cases, when acid is travelling from your stomach into your oesophagus and continuously causing heartburn and inflammation, doctors may recommend anti-reflux surgery.

The operation reduces the size of the opening to the gullet, but should be a last resort.

Written by Alex White.