Monday, 26 February 2018
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askthepharmacist

February 2018

Ask The Pharmacist: Heartburn

Heartburn (sometimes referred to as acid reflux), is a common condition that affects one in six adults. It occurs when stomach acid escapes back up into the oesophagus (food pipe).

Because the oesophagus is not as well protected as the stomach the acid can irritate the lining. If this keeps happening, it can interfere with daily life, and you may be told you have a longer-term condition referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Heartburn is not a condition normally experienced in childhood and therefore children with symptoms of heartburn should be taken to their doctor.

The symptoms of heartburn can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Symptoms are generally described as a kind of tightening or burning sensation in the back of the throat and middle of the chest. Some people also experience a bitter or acidic taste in the back of the throat and feeling of sickness. Symptoms tend to be worse after eating and when lying down.

Heartburn can have a number of triggers. These can include overeating, eating spicy or fatty foods, drinking alcohol, smoking, being overweight, pregnancy, stress and anxiety and certain medications (e.g. anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen). Many people can identify the triggers for their symptoms and take action accordingly, but if you are suffering regularly, or have any concerns, consult your pharmacist or GP.

Simple antacids such as calcium carbonate, found in Rennies™, can be effective and work quickly. Their effects only last for a few hours at a time though, so you may need to take more than one dose. Alginates such as Gaviscon™ are often more effective and form a foam barrier that floats on the surface of your stomach contents, keeping stomach acid in your stomach and away from your oesophagus. Other medications are available which are longer acting and work by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach, these include ranitidine (Zantac™) or esomeprazole (Nexium™).

If symptoms of heartburn are not taken seriously and left untreated you may end up with more serious problems such as ulcers, scarring and even cancer of the oesophagus.
It should also be noted that despite its name, heartburn is a condition that is not cardiac related. However, the chest pain that is commonly associated with heartburn can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack or angina attack. If you are experiencing severe chest pain and are unsure of its origin please err on the side of caution and consult emergency care immediately.

Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists.

Gordons Chemists is the largest independently owned retail pharmacy chain in Northern Ireland. Established in 1980, Gordons now has 60 pharmacies on the high street and in shopping centres across Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.

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