Most people will suffer from some kind of stomach condition in their lifetime. Some problems can be treated with over-the-counter medications, whereas others can be more severe and require medical intervention.
Four of the Most Common Gastric Conditions
Heartburn is quite common and can be treated with over-the-counter medications. It manifests as a burning pain in the chest that worsens after eating or when lying down. It can also cause a bitter or acidic taste in the mouth.
The burning sensation in the chest is caused when stomach acid flows up towards the throat. This can lead to an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth, bad breath, and cause the voice to become hoarse.
At the point where the esophagus meets the stomach, there is a ring of muscle or ‘sphincter’ known as the lower esophageal sphincter, which lets food into the stomach and closes to keep the stomach acid in. A person may experience frequent heartburn if this muscle doesn’t work correctly. Being overweight, pregnant, or constipated can put pressure on the sphincter and prevent it from closing effectively.
Eating food and drink such as chocolate, tomatoes, onions, alcohol, and citrus fruits can increase a person’s chance of getting heartburn, as can certain medications, lack of sleep, and stress. Most pregnant women will experience heartburn as the hormone progesterone relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
Many people can confuse heartburn and indigestion. So, heartburn vs. indigestion – what is the difference? Essentially, the pain and discomfort of heartburn is situated in the chest area, whereas indigestion occurs in the abdomen. Indigestion causes excess gas build-up, which can lead to belching and flatulence. It can also make a person feel bloated and full, even after eating a small amount of food. Pain and discomfort are experienced when there is difficulty digesting food or when the acid in the digestive tract comes in contact with the stomach, esophagus, and bowel lining.
Eating or drinking certain things can lead to indigestion. Alcohol stimulates the stomach to produce more acid, and this causes the stomach lining to become very irritated. Smoking, stress, and eating large, fatty meals can also cause indigestion. The excess acid can be neutralized with antacid medication, which comes in liquid or tablet form and is available over the counter.
3. Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest. The severity of the side effects caused by having a hiatal hernia is dependent on the size of the hernia. Some people can have a small hernia and not even know until they have an endoscopy or are checked over by a doctor for another reason.
It’s not fully clear why hiatal hernias occur. Still, they may be caused by injury or surgery to the area, age-related changes to the diaphragm, strong and prolonged pressure on the muscles in the area from constipation, vomiting, or lifting heavy objects. They are common in obese people aged 50 and over.
4. Peptic Ulcer
Pepsin is an enzyme in the body that breaks down proteins, and a peptic ulcer is an open sore that grows on linings within the gastrointestinal tract. An ulcer that develops on the stomach lining is known as a gastric ulcer, and one that is found in the first section of the small intestine, or duodenum, is called a duodenal ulcer.
Certain drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, naproxen, diclofenac, and ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers, as can an invasion of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Paracetamol is recommended as an alternative to ibuprofen and aspirin, and antibiotics like amoxicillin, clarithromycin, and metronidazole are prescribed to kill off H. pylori.
A doctor should be consulted if a person experiences severe stomach pain that travels around the whole abdomen, chest, and neck and lasts for anything from a few minutes to a few hours as it could indicate a peptic ulcer. Other symptoms of an ulcer include heartburn, loss of appetite, indigestion. Immediate medical attention should be sought when a person has sharp, severe stomach pains, vomits blood, or passes stools that are black and sticky. This can mean that an ulcer has burst or is bleeding excessively.
Ulcers can be treated with medications known as proton pump inhibitors or PPIs such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, and pantoprazole. These tablets stop the stomach from producing too much acid, so the ulcers are given a chance to heal over a period of around 4 to 8 weeks.