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Heartburn is a symptom of Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, or acid reflux. GERD is a medical condition in which the liquid content of the stomach regurgitates (refluxes) into the esophagus.

The stomach liquid can inflame and damage the esophagus lining, although visible signs of inflammation occur in a minority of patients. In people experiencing a good state of health, the lower end of the esophagus remains closed, preventing stomach acidic fluid from backing up into the esophagus. Heartburn, the burning sensation which radiates from the mid to upper chest, is caused by the esophagus not functioning properly.

GERD symptoms, in addition to heartburn, may include coughing, asthma, chronic bronchitis, nausea, sore throat, and voice change. Dietary habits, such as overeating, and consumption of caffeine, tomatoes, acidic fruit juices, fatty and spicy foods, and chocolate can cause heartburn as well as a stressful lifestyle.

According to the World Health Organization and the National Institutes for Health, TCM therapies, such as acupuncture, are useful in the treatment of many digestive disorders, including GERD and heartburn, food allergies, gastritis, ulcers, irritable bowel, and colitis.

Unlike Western medicine which views GERD as having a primary cause, which is similar in all cases, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has many different diagnoses, known as patterns, for this condition. From the TCM perspective, the gallbladder, pancreas, liver, and spleen work to aid the stomach’s digestion. When these organs function improperly the digestive system becomes imbalanced and acid reflux and heartburn occurs.

GERD is also viewed as being caused by emotional stress disrupting the chi, or vital energy flow. Stagnation of chi leads to gastric acid reflux. Emotional stress stimulates one of the cranial nerves which control stomach secretion (the vagus nerve), which leads to an increase in secretion of various gastric fluids as well as stomach muscle contraction.

TCM therapies, such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Tai Chi, and Qigong may be used in conjunction in the treatment of GERD. These TCM therapies can help to lower gastric acid, adjust esophageal pressure and balance the functions of the digestive organs.

Once your acupuncture physician assesses and determines a diagnosis, a pattern becomes apparent. Your acupuncture physician will then structure an appropriate therapy plan to address the underlying cause as well as alleviate the symptoms. In addition to TCM therapies, a stress management plan and dietary modifications will be recommended by your acupuncture physician to minimize acid reflux and heartburn.

TCM therapies reduce emotional stress and restore healthy chi flow. During acupuncture therapy, stimulation of particular acupuncture points inhibits the esophageal sphincter relaxation, which reduces acid reflux and occurrence of heartburn. Acupuncture points located in the stomach area, on the lower arms and legs and on the head or back may be selected for treatment.
Along with TCM therapy treatment, restoration of proper digestion may also require lifestyle modifications, such as balanced sleeping patterns and moderate regular exercise.
For more information about TCM and acupuncture for the treatment of GERD and heartburn call Dr. Richard Browne, Acupuncture Physician, at (305) 595-9500.