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Treating Indigestion, Heartburn, and Ulcers

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First Things First

Another easy heartburn antidote is deep breathing. The more you relax your body, the less likely it is that the “trap door” will let acid leak back out.

If antacids aren't available and someone is experiencing a bout of heartburn, give him or her one half of a cup or less of skim milk (only if the person does not have any problems with meat or dairy; for some people, eating protein creates a condition that is somewhere between an ulcer and heartburn). If there are no problems with ingesting protein, the skim milk can be an effective antacid substitute for heartburn or ulcers because it helps neutralize the acid. Further, skim milk contains no fat, which can be an irritant.

The key is to drink a small enough amount to work, but not enough to “splash up.” If skim milk isn't available, even a glass of water might help.

Whether you sip skim milk or water, it's important to remember one key thing: sit up for at least 30 minutes after you've sipped the liquid. This position will help the liquid do its “magic.”

Ulcer Understanding

The main difference between an ulcer and indigestion is that the former is often more serious than the latter. However, indigestion can be a warning sign of an ulcer (although not in every person). In other words, heartburn/sour stomach/indigestion can be a symptom of an ulcer, a condition in which the normal stomach lining breaks down, revealing unprotected tissue that is irritated by stomach acid. Or it can signal plain old indigestion.

An ulcer looks like a cluster of painful sores on the inner lining of the stomach. An ulcer can bleed and cause a great deal of pain, including cramps, indigestion, and severe heartburn.


As with any medication, acid blockers also can have side-effects in some people. Headaches, drowsiness, diarrhea, gas, and dizziness are the most common. However, these symptoms usually disappear within a few days. You also should check with your doctor about combining acid blockers with other medications; certain combos can cause adverse reactions.

Cause and Effect: An Up-To-The-Minute Ulcer Newsflash

For years, diet was blamed as much for ulcers as it was for heartburn. No more. A change in diet will not cure your ulcer, but it can still help. Scientists have isolated a bacteria called Helicobacterpylori(H. pylori) as the cause of some of these painful sores. Many—but not all—ulcers are now considered an infection like influenza, strep throat, and the common cold.

What's interesting is the fact that about 50 percent of us carry the H. pylori bacteria in our stomachs and intestines but have no reaction. Unfortunately, the other 50 percent's immune systems cannot keep H. pylori quiet. They have ulcers.

If your heartburn is long-term and severe, and you experience pain in your stomach or intestines, make an appointment with your doctor. Ulcers don't usually constitute life-and-death emergencies unless they bleed—but they can make a daily routine pretty miserable!

The best treatment for ulcers is the same acid blockers used for heartburn, either in over-the-counter formulas or in the stronger prescription ones, such as Tagamet and Zantac.

Researchers have also discovered that certain antibiotics or a regimen of acid blockers combined with plain old Pepto-Bismol can get rid of H. pylori in a matter of weeks in most cases.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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