People affected by heartburn are being encouraged to take control of the condition, which currently affects around one-third of adults in Ireland.
This week is Heartburn Awareness Week and the aim of this event is to encourage people to make simple but affective changes to their diet and lifestyle, as this could have a major impact on the condition.
Heartburn occurs when gastric acid passes from the stomach back up into the oesophagus (gullet) because the lower oesophageal sphincter has not closed tightly enough.
One of the main irritants in gastric acid is hydrochloric acid, which is a strong acid. The stomach has a special lining that prevents this acid from damaging it but the gullet has no such lining. Therefore when the gastric acid flows back into the oesophagus, the lining of it becomes inflamed due to the burning effect of the hydrochloric acid.
Typical symptoms of heartburn include a burning feeling in the chest and throat, an unpleasant taste in the mouth, feeling sick and bad breath.
Research carried out last year found that almost one in three heartburn sufferers experience such symptoms every day or at least twice a week.
Stress, lifestyle and the food we eat are all key contributors to the condition and previous research has also found that it can have an adverse impact on sleep. Almost half of sufferers agree that heartburn disrupts their sleep, which can affect their overall wellbeing.
"We're leading very busy and stressful lives and this can take its toll on our health. As a nation we need to be aware of our food consumption and lifestyle choices," commented GP, Dr Sinead Beirne.
She pointed to previous research which found that 78% of heartburn sufferers feel the condition impacts negatively on their lives.
"This is a shocking statistic. Heartburn Awareness Week is a great initiative to raise awareness among heartburn sufferers about how they can avoid its symptoms. Consulting with your pharmacist is the first port of call for anyone experiencing symptoms to find a solution that suits you best," Dr Beirne said.
As well as consulting with your local pharmacist, Dr Beirne also offers the following tips for dealing with heartburn:
-Monitor your food intake during the day, taking note of the foods that directly cause your heartburn to flare up. Try to avoid these in the future
-Do not eat too late at night especially before bed, as having a full stomach will increase acid backflow and put pressure on digestion
-Avoid rich and spicy foods that naturally affect your stomach balance and add acid-neutralising foods to your diet, such as yoghurt, bananas and ginger
-Eat slowly and decrease the size of portions at meal times
-Reduce your alcohol consumption weekly, to less than 17 units for men and less than 11 units for women
-If you are a smoker, try to quit
-Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum, especially later in the day. Avoid completely right before bedtime
-Try to reduce stress in your life
-If symptoms persist despite this, you should see your doctor.
Heartburn Awareness Week runs from October 7-13 and is supported by Pfizer Ireland.
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