Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) generally presents with burning pain in the stomach and chest, and regurgitation and bloating after meals. Also known as acid reflux or heartburn, symptoms range from mild to life threatening. Pain is often felt throughout the upper digestive tract, extending to the back, mimicking a heat attack.
The valve connecting the esophagus and stomach is supposed to keep what you eat in the stomach. During a heartburn attack, however, the valve does not close fully—allowing stomach acids to back up into the esophagus—causing burning pain and stimulating nerve endings along the entire upper digestive tract. The result can be “referred pain” in the upper and middle back, in addition to chest and stomach pain.
Foods to Avoid
Obesity and certain foods aggravate acid reflux. Eliminating triggering foods and chemicals reduces stress on the digestive process. Chocolate, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol cause weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter and should be avoided. Carbonated drinks, onions, garlic, fatty and spicy foods, citrus fruits, wheat, dairy and tomatoes are also widely known triggers.
Seek medical attention for GERD pain felt in the back, as it can mimic other conditions, such as heart attack, gallstones, liver disease, irritable bowel syndrome or pancreatitis. Your doctor will ask questions to ascertain what time of day pain is felt and under what circumstances. Keep a journal and record as much information as possible to share with your doctor.
After a physical exam, your doctor may order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Some of these tests determine your stomach’s acidity of the stomach and are performed while conscious or under mild sedation. X-rays, EKG and a barium swallow may be ordered, along with a scope of the stomach.
Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter or prescription remedies to reduce or block stomach acid. Home remedies also may help, suggests the Mayo Clinic. Along with eliminating known problem foods, keep notes on suspected triggers and reduce or eliminate them from your diet. If overweight, begin a weight-loss program and do some mild form of exercise, such as walking. Eat small amounts and slow down, chewing your food thoroughly.
To reduce reflux, avoid lying down after a meal, giving digestive juices time to work properly, and don’t eat within three hours of bedtime. Place an acid reflux wedge pillow under the upper part of your body, to keep it elevated while sleeping. Add some baking soda mixed in water to your daily liquid intake to reduce burning symptoms and lessen acidic conditions in the stomach.