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October 01, 2015

How to avoid gastric reflux

When important dinner parties, celebrations and festive occasions come around, it is not uncommon for people to overeat. In some cases, this can lead to “heartburn.” Learn how to prevent and relieve it.  

What is gastric reflux? 

Gastric reflux refers to the partial regurgitation of the stomach contents into the esophagus (tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). The acidity of the reflux can irritate the esophagus, throat and mouth. People who suffer from gastric reflux typically experience a sensation of heartburn that radiates to the throat.   

While often associated with gastric reflux, heartburn can, however, have other causes, such as ulcers, indigestion or gastritis. Before arriving at the conclusion that you suffer from gastric reflux, talk to a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Causes and symptoms

Gastric reflux is often caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Located at the junction of the esophagus and stomach, the LES opens to allow swallowed food to reach the stomach and then closes to keep it from backing up. When it opens at the wrong time or does not stay closed, the contents of the stomach are pushed up into the esophagus, causing reflux.  

Symptoms of Gastric Reflux

Prominent

Frequent

Burning sensation behind the breastbone, radiating to the throat

Hoarse voice, especially in the morning

Regurgitation

Chronic sore throat

Bitter, acid taste in the mouth

Asthma

Note:

These symptoms usually appear after eating or when lying down.

Chronic cough

Persistent bad breath

Erosion of tooth enamel

When to see a doctor

The majority of people with gastric reflux never consult a doctor and just treat their own symptoms with over-the-counter drugs. When taken for a long time, these drugs can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients

If you have experienced gastric reflux or heartburn for more than two weeks, you should consult your doctor or pharmacist rather than self-medicate with over-the-counter drugs.

You should also seek medical attention as soon as possible if you have the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Pain when swallowing 
  • Coughing, asthmatic breathing and a frequent need to rinse your throat 
  • Bloody phlegm, vomit or stool (black stool) 

Risk factors 

Many factors can disrupt the normal functioning of the LES causing gastric reflux. 

  • Pressure on the stomach caused by obesity, pregnancy or wearing tight clothes around the waist.  
  • Chemicals that cause the LES to relax, like those found in cigarette smoke, mint and certain drugs. 
  • Substances that irritate the stomach or increase its level of acidity, such as certain foods and beverages, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (acetylsalicylic acid/Aspirin®, ibuprofen/Advil®, Motrin®), certain medications, such as those for osteoporosis, and supplements (iron, potassium). 
  • Certain diseases, including hiatus hernia and scleroderma. 

How to prevent gastric reflux

If you tend to suffer from gastric reflux, here are a few preventive measures to consider:

  • Avoid the following foods and beverages: alcohol, tea, coffee, cola, chocolate, citrus fruit and juices, tomatoes, tomato juice, garlic, onions, fatty, fried and spicy dishes, mint and products containing mint. 
  • Eat small, light, more frequent meals.
  • Eat slowly and chew well.
  • After a meal, wait three to four hours before lying down.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing around the waist.
  • Raise the head of your bed at least 15 cm (6 inches) to sleep. 

How to choose the right heartburn medication 

Many drugs work well to alleviate the symptoms of gastric reflux. 

  • Alginates, available over the counter, form a protective barrier that keeps acid from splashing up into the esophagus (Gaviscon) 
  • Antacids, available over the counter, neutralize stomach acid: Maalox®
  • Prescription or over-the-counter H2 receptor antagonists reduce the stomach’s  production of acid:  famotidine (Pepcid®), ranitidine (Zantac®). 
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) are available by prescription and are similar to H2 receptor antagonists, but more powerful: omeprazole (Losec®), esomeprazole (Nexium®), pantoprazole (Pantoloc®), rabeprazole (Pariet®), lansoprazole (Prevacid®).

If gastric reflux cannot be successfully treated with drug therapy, surgery is available. However, it is reserved for patients with serious complications. 

Pharmacy services

Your family pharmacist can tell you which medications used for other health problems can cause or aggravate gastric reflux. 
He or she can also recommend over-the-counter drugs for gastric reflux, based on the severity of your symptoms and your state of health. Don’t hesitate to ask for help!

 

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