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The burning sensation which one experiences in their chest which is not related to the heart at all is wrongly called as heartburn. It occurs due to relaxation of the opening at the lower end of the esophagus (food pipe) which leads to reflux of the stomach’s contents into the food pipe leading to sensation of burning and discomfort. Normally, this opening of the food pipe remains tightly shut, and prevents acid and food from the stomach from flowing backwards into the food pipe.
Reason for reflux:
During pregnancy, hormone progesterone is secreted in the blood stream, which is responsible for the laxity and relaxation of the food pipe opening, leading to regurgitation, acid reflux and heartburn. In addition, progesterone also tends to slow down the process of digestion which further triggers reflux of acid from the stomach into the food pipe. Apart from these factors, in the last trimester, owing to the growing baby in the belly, the pressure on the stomach pushes the contents backwards into the food pipe leading to a number of gastric symptoms. A host of other gastric symptoms may also occur such as a sensation of dullness, belching, eructations, regurgitation, nausea and vomiting.
These symptoms are usually mild, but can be very distressing and uncomfortable. All symptoms of heartburn and indigestion go away once the baby is born. Complete elimination is difficult during pregnancy, though there are various ways which you can follow to reduce the intensity of symptoms.
Simple ways to tackle heartburn and dyspepsia:
Certain lifestyle and dietary modifications are enough to improve or reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms. These are natural, harmless and easy to follow methods which if regularly followed, will give ample relief and ensure a smooth journey through your pregnancy, so you can focus on your upcoming bundle of joy.
Dietary and lifestyle modifications:
- Eat small but frequent meals- the thumb rule here is that instead of eating three full meals, try to eat 5-6 smaller meals. This prevents fullness, bloating, and other uneasy symptoms. Eat your food slowly, chewing properly and avoid gulping it down.
- Refrain from oily, fatty, fried food as this is a trigger for acid reflux and heartburn. Certain other additives like coffee, tea, sugar and carbonated drinks are also well known triggers.
- Avoid eating heavy meats, especially red meats, as they tend to aggravate the symptoms.
- Drink loads of water, but avoid drinking with food as it reduces the effectiveness of the gastric juices by diluting them. Rather, drink water between meals. Always stay hydrated and drink a minimum of 7-8 glasses of water a day. Have loads of fresh juices, smoothies and milk shakes. They are not only healthy, but help cut down acidity levels. Protein shakes are a good healthy alternative to stay hydrated.
- Eat at least an hour prior to sleeping. Do not sleep immediately after your food. Do not indulge in heavy meals for dinner.
- After your meals, chew gum as it stimulates saliva production which neutralizes the excessive acidity levels.
- Sleep with your head and shoulders propped up to avoid reflux of gastric contents. This also helps in breathing, as the growing uterus pushes upwards on the lungs too, leading to breathing difficulties in some.
- Maintain your weight and keep a tab on weight gain.
- The benefits of good old ginger cannot be ignored in heartburn. Ginger ale or ginger candies can help reduce symptoms of heartburn as well as nausea and vomiting. It can be safely used by pregnant women.
- Garlic cloves can be taken raw or used while cooking as they are useful in combating symptoms of heartburn. Garlic capsules and supplements also available, but always consult your healthcare provider prior to usage.
- Herbal tea is also useful in helping in digestion, and curtailing symptoms of heartburn. Chamomile tea, green tea, lavender tea, etc can be sipped on 1-2 times a day for relief.
- Milk is also known to reduce heartburn and acidity. Have a glass of milk prior to sleeping or keep it ready in case you wake up with an attack of heartburn and eructation. Yoghurt or ice cream is also a good option instead of milk.
- Relaxation techniques which include progressive muscle relaxation and yoga can be learnt too. These all should be done under the supervision of a trained professional and under medical guidance.
- Acupuncture can also be tried as it provides relief to heartburn symptoms if done in the correct manner.
- Another great alternative is homeopathy which is effective in treating the individual symptoms of heartburn which greatly vary from one lady to another.
- If above modifications do not help to reduce heartburn symptoms, you can try antacid preparations which contain calcium and magnesium. They are safe and should be taken in consultation with your medical practitioner. Avoid aluminium based antacids as they can aggravate constipation which is a common feature of pregnancy.
- Proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers can also be prescribed if symptoms don’t seem to get better.
Even though the ultimate remedy for heartburn would be giving birth, these simple ways can help you battle heartburn and the associated discomfort with it. Small changes in your daily schedule can prevent all the unnecessary symptoms. It’s best to seek medical advice prior to starting anything new during pregnancy or if the symptoms become unbearable.
What If Nothing Works ?
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- Dall’Alba V, Fornari F, Krahe C, et al. Heartburn and regurgitation in pregnancy: the effect of fat ingestion. Dig Dis Sci. 2010;55(6): 1610-4.
- Ramu B, Mohan P, Rajasekaran MS, et al. Prevalence and risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux in pregnancy. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2011;30(3): 144-7.
- Tiran D. Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy: an Integrated Approach to Care. Edinburgh: Elsevier Science.2004.
- Chittumma P, Kaewkiattikun K, Wiriyasiriwach B. 2007. Comparison of the effectiveness of ginger and vitamin B6 for treatment of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized double-blind controlled trial. J Med Assoc Thai. 90(1): 15-20 – Acidity during pregnancy.