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Abdominal Problems

Heartburn

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Heartburn occurs when there is an abnormal backflow of stomach acid into the tube (esophagus) that leads from the mouth to the stomach. The acid backflow (reflux) causes a feeling of burning, warmth, or heat beneath the breastbone. The discomfort may spread in waves upward into the neck, and you may get a sour taste in your mouth. Heartburn can last up to 2 hours or longer. Symptoms often start after you eat. They grow worse when you lie down or bend over and improve when you sit or stand up.

Don't be concerned if you have heartburn now and then; nearly everyone does. Following the Home Treatment tips can prevent most cases of heartburn. However, if backflow of stomach acid into your esophagus happens regularly, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause continuous irritation of the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to other health problems. It is important to visit a health professional if you have frequent heartburn and Home Treatment does not relieve the discomfort.

Organs of the digestive tract

Home Treatment

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Try other Home Treatment measures before taking antacids or stomach acid blockers to relieve heartburn. If you take medications to relieve your heartburn without doing other Home Treatment, your heartburn is likely to keep coming back. If symptoms are not relieved by Home Treatment, or if symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, call your doctor.

  • Eat smaller meals, and avoid late-night snacks. Don't lie down for 2 to 3 hours after eating.

  • Avoid foods that bring on heartburn. These include chocolate, fatty or fried foods, peppermint- or spearmint-flavoured foods, coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks.

  • Limit acidic foods that can irritate your esophagus. This includes citrus fruits and juices such as orange juice and tomato juice. Limit spicy foods.

  • Avoid clothes with tight belts or waistbands.

  • Stop smoking. Smoking promotes heartburn.

  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Being overweight can worsen heartburn, and the loss of even a few pounds can help prevent heartburn.

  • Raise the head of your bed 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) by putting blocks underneath your bed frame or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work well.)

  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs can cause heartburn. Try acetaminophen instead.

  • Take a nonprescription product for heartburn. Antacids, such as Maalox, Mylanta, Tums, and Gelusil, neutralize stomach acid. Stomach acid blockers, such as Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, and Zantac, reduce the production of stomach acid. Ask your pharmacist to help you choose one of these medications, and follow the package instructions and your doctor's advice for its use.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or emergency services if you have any of the following:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen with chest pain that is crushing or squeezing, feels like a heavy weight on your chest, or occurs with any other symptoms of a heart attack (See Heart Attack).

  • Signs of shock (See Shock).

Call your doctor:

  • If there is blood in your vomit or stools.

  • If you suspect that a medication is causing heartburn. Antihistamines, central nervous system depressants, birth control pills, and anti-inflammatory drugs including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can sometimes cause heartburn.

  • If you are routinely having pain or difficulty when swallowing solid foods.

  • If you are losing weight and you don't know why.

  • If heartburn persists for more than 2 weeks despite Home Treatment. Call sooner if symptoms are severe or are not relieved at all by antacids or acid blockers. See Ulcers on See Ulcers.

    Kidney Stones

    Kidney stones can form from the minerals in urine. The most common cause of kidney stones is not drinking enough water.

    As long as they stay in the kidneys, kidney stones usually cause no problems. A stone may move out of the kidney into the tube that leads to the bladder (ureter). If the stone blocks the flow of urine, there may be severe pain.

    Symptoms that may develop when a kidney stone moves through a ureter include:

    • Pain in the side, groin, or genital area that begins suddenly and gets worse over 15 to 60 minutes until it is steady and nearly unbearable. The pain may stop for a while when the stone is not moving, and pain often vanishes suddenly when the stone moves into the bladder.

    • Nausea and vomiting.

    • Blood in the urine.

    • Feeling like you need to urinate often or pain when urinating.

    • Loss of appetite, diarrhea, or constipation.

    • Inability to find a comfortable body position.

    Call your doctor immediately if you suspect that you are passing a kidney stone. Most small kidney stones pass without the need for any medical treatment other than pain medication. In rare cases, surgery may be needed.

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