Our body naturally produces stomach acid in order to break down the food we eat so that we can extract the carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to fuel our daily functions. The digestive process is a multistage process, and the transit time can take between 12-48 hours for food to get from one end to the other. But things can go awry along the way, and one of the first places trouble can start is in the stomach in the form of reflux, or heartburn (it is just the acid which causes the burning, not anything to do with the heart).
Reflux can happen to anyone at any age, but usually occurs in older individuals or those that have had surgery on parts of their throat or upper digestive tract. Reflux occurs when too much acid is produced in the stomach (before, after, or in between eating times), and the flap at the top of your stomach (which allows food in and stops it from getting out) weakens and allows this acid to travel back through up into your oesophagus. This acid can just cause pain in the lower oesophagus, but it also can travel back up as high as the mouth like vomit, although it is usually in a very small volume.
Reflux is usually very unpleasant, although symptoms can be simple to severe, and can occur anytime. Events that can cause reflux are:
• Eating a large meal that is too much for the stomach
• Laying down at night to go to sleep (pressure on the flap)
• Irritants – high fat meals, spicy foods, alcohol, and coffee are common ones
• Burping a lot – this can be a result of food intolerances, or swallowing air when eating.
There are many strategies that can reduce the severity or frequency of reflux, which include:
• Not eating for 3+ hours before bed, or sleep with your head elevated
• Reducing meal sizes, or trying to use a smaller plate
• Avoiding irritants or foods that cause you trouble
• Consciously eating with your mouth closed (can take a bit of practice)
• Use of antacids, such as Gaviscon and QuickEze, which help to neutralise stomach acid.
There are medications prescribed by GPs for severe cases of reflux, and these help your body to produce lesser amounts of acid, and further neutralise the acid which is available. Some can also help with passing food from the stomach faster so there is lesser risk of acid coming back up.
There are more individual reasons and strategies that will work for the prevention or reduction of reflux symptoms. For more information tailored to you, consult a GP, and they may recommend you make an appointment with an APD today.