Acupuncture for heartburn

Heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, aka ‘acid reflux’. The associated burning sensation which travels from the mid to upper chest, is caused by the oesophagus not functioning correctly. In healthy people, the lower end of the oesophagus stays closed, preventing acidic fluid in the stomach from flowing into the oesophagus when the stomach contracts. If the oesophagus fails to function properly, the stomach acid backs up causing the discomfort of heartburn.

There are various causative factors of heartburn, including over-eating, drinking coffee, consumption of tomatoes, acidic fruit juices, fatty and spicy foods and chocolate. Smoking, being over-weight, eating late at night and a stressful lifestyle are also common causes of acid reflux. Hiatus hernia and pregnancy can also contribute to GERD.

Conventional medical treatments include over-the-counter or prescribed antacids or acid reducers in order to neutralise or suppress the stomach’s production of acid. These medications can be really helpful but often give side effects such as diarrhoea, constipation, cramps and changes in bowel movements.

Unlike conventional medicine, which views GERD as a single pathological process that is similar in all cases, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective is that different people present with different types of acid reflux. During acupuncture the stimulation of selected acupuncture points can prevent the oesophageal sphincter from relaxing, which reduces acid reflux and heartburn. Based on your accompanying signs and symptoms, your practitioner will make a diagnosis and suggest a suitable treatment plan which might include acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and/or dietary advice. This not only helps to reduce the symptoms of heartburn, but more importantly, address the root of the problem. Alongside treatment, balancing the digestive system might also require lifestyle changes, such as better sleeping habits, quitting smoking, losing weight and regular exercise.