Now in its fifth year, National Heartburn Awareness Week, supported by Pfizer Ireland, is becoming an increasingly important initiative with over a third of adults in Ireland suffering from heartburn.
As life in Leitrim and across Ireland becomes busier it is no surprise that stress, lifestyle and the food we eat are key contributors to the condition. Research conducted in 2018 and 2016 found that over a third (34%) of people in Ireland state that stress can trigger the symptoms of heartburn while 39% of sufferers find that there are limitations to the food they can consume as a result of their condition.
Heartburn Awareness week will run from October 7 – 13 and this year, the aim is to encourage sufferers to take control of their heartburn by making simple but affective changes to their diet and lifestyle. The unpleasant symptoms of heartburn (burning pain in the chest and throat, unpleasant taste, bloating, feeling sick or bad breath) occur daily or at least twice a week for 30% of heartburn sufferers in Ireland. Those who experience heartburn are being urged to speak to their pharmacists to get advice on how to best treat their symptoms.
It was found that close to 7 in 10 adults say their diet is affected when they experience stress, meaning the likelihood of heartburn is increased during these periods. Eating spicy or rich foods is one of the main contributing factors to the development of heartburn. Research has also found that heartburn can also have a negative impact on sleep quality with 49% of heartburn sufferers agreeing that heartburn disrupts their sleep resulting in a knock-on effect on their overall wellbeing.
Commenting on the research, Dr Sinead Beirne says, “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. The fact that 78% of heartburn sufferers have said the condition impacts negatively on their lives 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”.
As well as consulting with your local pharmacist, Dr Sinead Beirne provides several helpful tips and tricks to keep your heartburn under control including:
- Monitor your food intake during the day and take note of the foods that directly cause your heartburn to flare up and avoid these moving forward
- Don’t eat too late at night especially before bed, 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 including 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 a man and less than 11 units for a woman
- If you smoke, try to stop
- Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum especially later in the day, both tea and coffee, and avoid completely right before bedtime
- Try to reduce stress in your life
If symptoms persist despite this, you should see your doctor.
Heartburn occurs when gastric acid flows back from the stomach into the oesophagus when the lower oesophageal sphincter does not close tightly. Unlike the stomach, the oesophagus does not have a protective lining and is sensitive to acid which burns its walls, causing that painful feeling. Any changes to the diet, whether it is consuming unhealthy foods, eating more or eating less food, can affect digestion and in turn contribute to heartburn and its symptoms.
This year, Heartburn Awareness Week is advising the public to speak to their local pharmacist and find a solution to best treat this common condition. The initiative focuses on how sufferers can be made aware of stress levels and food consumption to avoid the daily triggers that contribute to heartburn and its symptoms, by highlighting and equipping sufferers with information on how to avoid these triggers.