Ever experience that burning pain under your chest after mealtime? If you are one of those men who smoke and consume a large amount of salty food all the time, that painful sensation might just be the effects acid reflux, bro.
Acid reflux occurs when acidic stomach contents go back into the esophagus. This causes you to feel a grating heartburn, which often comes with a sour taste in the mouth also known as acid regurgitation.
Experts say this stems from related risk factors in one’s lifestyle.
In a study done in Norway, findings reveal that people who are active smokers are more at risk of heartburn than those who don't enjoy cigarettes. According to Dr. Ronnie Fass, the nicotine in tobacco relaxes the muscles in the esophagus, which causes the acid to go up, resulting in severe pain.
Aside from this, 70 percent of people who have excessive salt intake are more at risk of having acid reflux. High-sodium food like dairy products and frozen meals also leave you more vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
Is it GERD?
But while acid reflux can hit just about anyone and is generally harmless, its frequency can determine if you have a disease or not.
According to the Philippine Society of Gastroenterology (PSG), premiere association of expert clinicians in the field, if a person is having acid reflux episodes more than twice a week, it can be considered as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
"Acid reflux is common, but persistent and mostly annoying heartburns can be considered as GERD," Dr. Joseph Bacobo says.
Freelance writer Andy Antonio, 28, was first diagnosed wtih GERD in 2013. He was rushed to the emergency room when he thought he was having a heart attack. "I demanded to have my heart thoroughly checked, I was panicking to the point that somewhat irritated the doctor attending to me," he recalls. "But she said tests done ruled out heart attack, adding that GERD often causes heartburn that actually mimics the symptoms of a heart attack."
Bacobo says that aside from smoking and high table salt intake, GERD can also be triggered by obesity and lack of exercise. "I ticked off all those risk factors on the list, actually," Antonio admits. "My gastroentorologist added that stress, lying down after eating, and not paying attention to one's food triggers can hasten one's acid reflux attacks."
Speaking of food triggers, entrepreneur Lito Salvador, 27, warns: "May mga GERD veterans akong kilala na ayaw kumain ng food na tomato-based ang sauce kasi automatic heartburn na yun for them. Sa akin, walang problema. Even with yung mga home remedies—drinking lemon grass or yung popular apple cider vinegar (yung may mother)—iba-iba rin ang effects. Every time I drink lemon grass, for example, parang binibiyak dibdib ko sa heartburn followed by bloatedness that could last for days. That's why awareness of one's triggers is key."
It took Antonio a year to finally be at peace with his GERD, which is considered a lifetime disease. Outside of lifestyle change, he needed to overcome the anxiety that came with dealing with GERD. "Every time I had a reflux attack, ang tagal before I accepted what I was feeling wasn't a heart attack. Kaya noon, konting atake, takbo agad ako ng ER, pa-ECG ako, 2D-Echo. I wanted peace of mind. In the end, gastos lang kasi normal ang findings."
The recurring nature of GERD had made him such a worrywart that he had decided to see a psychiatrist to help him deal with his fears. "I needed to accept that the disease would never go away and that only with diligent and proper management ko lang ma-a-achieve yung hold nito over me."
All that worrying only leads to stress, after all, and that in turn is major trigger for an acid reflux attack, adds Salvador. "Don't let anyone dissuade you from consulting a psychiatrist, a life coach, or a psychologist if things get too much. It's okay, you're not going crazy but looking after yourself, which is—and will always be—a great choice."
Ditch the tobacco, sedentary lifestyle
When experiencing acid reflux, you can take over-the-counter medicines such as antacids for short-term relief.
However, PSG advises everyone who experiences heartburns frequently to see a gastroenterologist to determine if you have GERD. The good news is, clinical guidelines for management of the disease in the Philippines has been set years ago, giving clinicians a standard way of treatment.
Experts suggest cutting down on salty food and loading up on fiber instead. Say yes to beans, peas, broccoli, and lentils. Avoid frozen meals, fries, popcorn, dairy products, and canned goods. It's also advisable to not just sit two hours after eating. Go for a walk or do quick errands after that heavy meal.
If you want to keep the burning sensation away, Bacobo stresses the need to drop the sedentary lifestyle for more physical activities. And, of course, as many experts have already said over and over again, quit smoking and embrace a healthier way of living.