Chest pain is alarming, especially if you don’t know the cause. Often, there is a simple explanation, but knowing the difference between the symptoms of a life-threatening heart condition and simple indigestion could save you a trip to the emergency room.
Once you’ve identified the cause of your chest pain then no doubt your next question will be how to treat it. In this blog, we will look specifically at how to reduce chest pain due to acid reflux – the lifestyle changes you can make and the medication available.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of chest pain that have not been investigated or previously diagnosed, you should always seek prompt medical attention as it may be a sign of a more serious condition.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when the contents of your stomach backs up into your throat and irritates the lining of the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach).
The symptoms of acid reflux includes heartburn, which can feel like a burning sensation or pain behind the breastbone. Though it might feel like it is radiating from the heart, acid reflux is not associated with heart disease.
Before you treat your chest pain, it’s important to be clear on the cause. Understanding your symptoms better, reduces the risk of you misdiagnosing a serious condition.
Symptoms of acid reflux
Chest pain caused by acid reflux is known as non-cardiac chest pain (NCCP). It can feel like a burning sensation or a sharp pain in the upper chest and throat.
Though this may sound similar to the symptoms of a heart attack or angina, there are some key differences that you need to know.
Non-cardiac chest pain is usually temporary and feels worse when you breathe in or cough. The intensity of pain caused by a serious heart condition stays the same and often spreads to other parts of the body – arms, back, shoulders, and jaw.
If you’re suffering from acid reflux then you may also have an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth caused by the acid. Common symptoms of heartburn include:
- cough or hiccups
- a hoarse voice
- feeling or being sick
- bad breath
Long term or severe acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
How to reduce chest pain associated with acid reflux
Acid reflux is caused by a combination of too much stomach acid and a weak lower esophageal sphincter – the ring of muscles at the bottom of your esophagus. When the sphincter is closed, it stops stomach acid backing up into the throat.
In some cases, acid reflux is temporary – certain medications, like ibuprofen for example, can cause heartburn, and you should see a return to normal when you stop taking them.
Pregnancy, stress, and anxiety can all cause acid reflux, but with the passage of time, your symptoms will improve. If you think your chest pain might be linked to your mental health, see your GP as they may be able to refer you for additional support, such as counselling or even cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
A poor diet is usually to blame for severe acid reflux, and most people will at some time suffer with chest pain caused by indigestion. There are a number of things you can do to prevent an attack of heartburn:
- eat smaller meals, more frequently
- don’t eat on the move
- avoid eating three to four hours before bed
- avoid foods that trigger your heartburn
- reduce your alcohol intake
While there are some common foods that trigger heartburn, such as citrus fruits or creamy sauces, each person will also have their own individual triggers. Keep a food diary to identify the foods causing your acid reflux, so you know what to avoid.
To reduce your chest pain, you should also try to lose weight and quit smoking.
If home remedies alone aren’t enough to combat your symptoms, there are medications available over the counter and by prescription designed to help.
There are two types of heartburn medication – antacids and proton pump inhibitors.
Antacids are designed to neutralise stomach acid and they are available to buy in most pharmacies and supermarkets in either liquid form or as chewable tablets. Brands like Gaviscon contain an alginate to coat the esophagus, and the liquid formula creates a raft on top of the stomach to prevent acid from backing up into the throat.
Proton pump inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) prevent the stomach from producing too much acid. They work in a similar way to H2 blockers by suppressing the enzymes in your stomach responsible for producing the acid that breaks down your food.
There are three types of PPIs that can help relieve non-cardiac chest pain:
This type of medication may only be available to buy with a prescription. At Post My Meds, our registered pharmacists can prescribe customers with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
Before choosing your treatment, you will be asked to complete a short online consultation so we can check which PPI is right and safe for you to take.
When to seek help
Acid reflux is a common complaint and most people will suffer from the symptoms of heartburn at some point in their life, but, occasionally, it can be a sign of something more serious. If you suffer from heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms on most days for three weeks or more, you should see your GP promptly for further advice.