Learning about your pregnancy is a pretty exciting experience however, you need to start bracing yourself for some of the possible pregnancy symptoms which are not so desirable. Heartburn is probably one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy. It usually occurs on the second and third trimester of pregnancy and though it doesn’t signify a more serious problem, heartburn may cause pain and discomfort to pregnant women. Popularly know as dyspepsia or stomach upset, indigestion usually accompanies heartburn.
What Is Heartburn
Heartburn is best described as a painful and burning sensation in the throat and chest which may extend through the back, arms and jaw. It is a condition that does not just affect pregnant women, anyone can suffer from this condition though pregnant women are more prone to experience due to hormones. In fact, research shows that 17-45% of pregnant women experience this symptom every now and then.
Heartburn is also termed as acid indigestion and it normally takes place for around 30-60 minutes. The pain associated with heartburn is usually aggravated when lying down. However, it is alleviated by standing upright, taking antacids and by swallowing water and saliva.
Heartburn and Other Diseases
Frequent episodes of heartburn may indicate the existence of a more serious health condition known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Severe heartburn occurrence may lead to serious complications such as ulcer of the oesophagus.
At some cases, heartburn is a symptom of a ischemic heart disease. To determine if heartburn is a symptom of some serious health condition, doctors usually recommend undergoing a series of tests such as endoscopy, X-ray, ambulatory acid probe test, oesophageal motility testing and manometry.
How Heartburn Occurs
In normal circumstances, the food passes through the mouth and moves down into the stomach. When a person is not eating, the valve found at the bottom of the oesophagus closes thereby creating a barrier between the stomach and the oesophagus. This barrier prevents the acid from rising. When a person eats, the valve relaxes to allow liquid and food to pass through. However, if the valve relaxes when a person is not eating, it allows the acid to move upward through the oesophagus thereby causing heartburn.
Common Symptoms of Heartburn
Heartburn usually occurs when the digested food from the stomach which contains acid tends to move upward through the oesophagus. It then triggers a burning sensation from the stomach which moves up through the oesophagus. Some women report a burning sensation just behind their breastbones.
A sour taste in the mouth is normal when a person is experiencing heartburn. This condition known as regurgitation usually occurs when bending, straining or lying down right after meals. When left uncontrolled, stomach acid may affect the respiratory tract of a person which may lead to hoarseness, sore throat, chronic cough, asthma and tooth damage.
Factors That Cause Heartburn
There are certain foods which when taken in inappropriate amount can cause heartburn. These foods include chocolate, caffeinated beverages, spicy foods, garlic, onions, fatty and greasy foods. Peppermint, tea, coffee and alcohol may also trigger the occurrence of heartburn. Aside from medications, lying down right after eating may also cause heartburn. Lying on the back enables the acid to flow through the oesophagus thereby causing a painful, tingling and burning sensation.
Consuming a large meal and eating in a very fast manner can also trigger heartburn. There are also substances which are capable of irritating the oesophagus lining that may lead to heartburn. These substances include citrus fruits, cigarette smoke, citrus juice, ibuprofen, aspirin, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and medications for osteoporosis. Other foods that cause heartburn include black pepper, mayonnaise, creamy sauce, butter, margarine, salad dressings and whole milk dairy products.
People who have been diagnosed with certain serious conditions are also prone to suffer from heartburn. These conditions include Raynaud’s phenomenon, scleroderma, CREST syndrome, hiatal hernia, gastroparesis, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
Heartburn During Pregnancy
Heartburn is very common during pregnancy. This is normally caused by the surge of hormones which cause the muscles of the digestive tract including the valve to relax. Lying down right after eating also makes pregnant women more susceptible to heartburn.
When the muscular valve found between the oesophagus and the stomach is relaxed, stomach acids tend to splash back up to the oesophagus. Also, the increasing size of the uterus may push the stomach acid backward. Gallstones are also said to be a contributor to heartburn.
How to Manage Heartburn Effectively
Heartburn is not a serious condition but it needs to be managed properly as it can cause a lot of discomfort to pregnant women. Heartburn can be controlled by eating smaller meals and by avoiding large amounts of beverages and fluids during your meals.
Control your weight and as much as possible wear comfortable clothes. Never lie down immediately after eating and try to avoid greasy, fatty and spicy foods. When you lie down, try to elevate your head. Avoid taking excessive amount of foods when bedtime is approaching.
To treat heartburn, doctors usually recommend losing weight. According to research, overweight or obese people are very likely to suffer from heartburn. Losing weight reduces the pressure on the stomach which in turn could reduce the bouts of heartburn later on. Quitting smoking is also an effective way to manage acid indigestion. Smoking has the ability to irritate the digestive system of the body thereby aggravating heartburn and GERD.
There is also a wide availability of over-the-counter medications which can help in eliminating the symptoms of heartburn. These OTC drugs include antacids, proton pump inhibitors and H2 Receptor blockers.
Antacids usually provide immediate relief by neutralizing the stomach acid. However, antacids should be used appropriately as they may cause the onset of diarrhoea or constipation. Meanwhile, H2 Receptor blockers provide longer acid relief than antacids. On the other hand, proton pump inhibitors are capable of blocking the production of stomach acids thereby giving the oesophageal tissues to heal itself.
Antacids normally contain calcium and magnesium which may help in relieving the symptoms of heartburn however always check the label of antacids as some contain aspirin, aluminium and sodium which may be harmful to the baby and mother.
Though OTC drugs may be helpful in combating the symptoms of heartburn, pregnant women should be extra careful in taking these medications as they may incur substantial negative effects to the baby’s health. Always ask your doctor’s advice before taking these medications.