Easter is the time of year to indulge in a variety of your favourite traditional foods: hot cross buns, Easter eggs and fruit cake galore! But there’s one offender that might have you clutching your chest and reaching for the Rennies: Chocolate.
Little do people know, too much chocolate is one of the main causes of heartburn and indigestion, and more so than ever at Easter. So, we spoke to consultant gastroenterologist, Mr Mark Cox, who practices in and around various Birmingham hospitals, about how to avoid these annoying symptoms altogether so we can really enjoy our Easter eggs this year!
What are the symptoms of indigestion symptoms?
Firstly, there are various common indigestion symptoms you have to be aware of:
- heartburn: a burning feeling in the chest that can be painful. It usually appears after eating feeling uncomfortable and/or nauseous
- feeling full and bloated
- passing wind or belching
- frequently bringing up food or bad tasting fluids
What exactly is indigestion?
Indigestion describes symptoms that are attributable to the oesophagus, stomach and small intestine. The symptoms are usually provoked by eating or drinking, which then brings on the feeling of nausea or the sensation of being overfull. This feeling is generally uncomfortable for people and heartburn and acid reflux are often accompanying symptoms.
What causes indigestion?
Indigestion is typically caused by one of the following conditions: acid reflux disease, gastritis (inflammation in the stomach) or ulcers in either the stomach or small intestine.
Our stomach acid is pretty strong stuff and can work its way through the food we eat pretty quickly! Because of this, our stomachs have a natural defence system against the acid, but if this is damaged in any way, then these problems and symptoms can arise.
The oesophagus, on the other hand, is different. It has no natural protection which means that any acid coming up out of the stomach into the oesophagus will cause fairly bothersome symptoms. There are also bacteria known as helicobacter pylori that are found in the stomach. These bacteria can disrupt the balance in the stomach, cause damage from acid and bring about symptoms.
Stress can be a possible trigger of symptoms; however, some other things we know that can definitely increase stomach acid production includes smoking, drinking fruity juices and acidic drinks such as wine and eating spicy food.
Are there any causes of indigestion that maybe people don't know of?
At the bottom of the oesophagus, there is a muscle that prevents acid reflux. When we drink alcohol, this muscle relaxes which is why alcohol is a trigger of indigestion. But, perhaps more surprisingly, eating too much chocolate can also do this. As many people don't know this, they eat chocolate before going to bed, which may result in nocturnal heartburn.
So, with that in mind, it may be best to bypass those Easter eggs on your way to bed this year! What about alcohol?
Every alcoholic drink will relax the lower oesophagus and increase the likelihood of reflux, but fizzy drinks, such as lager, are more likely to cause it than drinking spirits - especially when drunk in large volumes. Also, the medical myth that you can use brandy to settle your stomach is not true!
How can people avoid indigestion this Easter then?
Avoiding alcohol and chocolate eggs around Easter time is not an easy feat! But there are ways around it.
Eating and drinking several hours before going to bed is one of the best things you can do, as well as sticking to small but frequent meals. If you do find that you are getting acid reflux mainly at night-time though, try propping your head up and keep your body slightly upright; the gravity effect will help reduce the acid coming up from your stomach.
What is the best way of treating indigestion if you do get it?
There are various modern drugs on the market nowadays:
- Omeprazole: this drug is a very effective medication and is a form of PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors). These medications have transformed the management of indigestion by decreasing acid production pretty dramatically.
- H2 blockers: a group of medications that reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach. Types such as ranitidine work rather well.
- Over-the-counter remedies: most of them are only antacids: they will neutralise the stomach acid but only for a relatively short period.
When should you see a doctor about indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux?
If you’re suffering from heartburn regularly, it’s important to see a doctor to get a check-up.
If after two weeks of lifestyle and diet changes and a short course or medicine don't work, then you may need to look for other forms of treatment with a specialist doctor.
Dr Mark Cox is a highly experienced consultant gastroenterologist who routinely treats complicated cases of indigestion and heartburn. Visit his Top Doctors profile and book a consultation with him.