Do you keep getting a burning, stabbing pain in your chest, especially after a meal? It’s probably not a cardiac problem but likely to be a more mundane ailment. It’s called gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).
BURN, BABY, BURN
Your stomach, as you perhaps know, secretes strong acidic juices for digestion. Usually these juices remain in the stomach. If the valve at the top of your stomach (called the lower esophageal sphincter or cardiac sphincter) doesn’t close properly, those acidic juices can gush upward. The result is a chemical burn. This is the most common cause of GERD. It can also be caused by a portion of the upper stomach protruding above the diaphragm, called a hiatal hernia.
GERD is painfully obvious. The characteristic symptom is a burning or stabbing pain under the chest bone, generally after a meal. It’s called ‘heartburn’ because it feels as if it’s coming from your heart. The pain can get quite alarming but in the absence of a genuine heart problem, it’s nothing to worry about.
No problem. There are a variety of treatment options.
Most cases of GERD can be handled by simple antacid formulations. These can be taken either as a liquid suspension or in the form of an antacid tablet.
Please note : Chewable antacid tablets (like Digene) are strictly meant to be chewed only. Never swallow an antacid tablet whole. You may damage your stomach lining.
‘Raft’ antacids or foaming antacids contain alginates which form a floating gel raft over the stomach contents. Such antacids put a damper on heaving gastric juices.
For tough cases, there are several acid-reducers available on prescription. Proton-pump inhibitors like omeprazole, antacids like ranitidine and cimetidine and other drugs like cisapride and domperidone are particularly useful. At least one of them will tame a stubborn case of GERD.
Rarely, if the GERD is really nasty, corrective surgery can take care of that disobedient stomach valve.
If you have chronic ‘heartburn’ or chest discomfort, first get it checked out to rule out any cardiac problem.
Eat slowly and chew your food well. The spiciness of the food doesn’t really matter.
Remain upright for at least an hour after a meal. Don’t just crash out after your ‘bhojan’.
If the heartburn persists, please see your doctor. Although GERD is not exactly fatal, it can cause scarring of the esophagus. Over many years, it may even lead to ulceration and esophageal cancer.
No need to set your heart on fire for no reason.
Cheers … Srini.
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