When the contents of your stomach – food, stomach acid, enzymes, and bile – come up into your esophagus instead of going down into the intestines, you’ve got acid reflux. While your stomach can handle these harsh substances, they cause irritation in your esophagus and, over time can damage it.
That’s of special concern to patients who take chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy is designed to target cancer cells, which grow and reproduce faster than most normal cells. Unfortunately, the cells that line the digestive tract also reproduce quickly. As a result, those healthy cells are often affected by chemotherapy — and that’s why acid reflux, nausea, and diarrhea are common chemotherapy side effects.
Symptoms of acid reflux
- Heartburn (burning feeling at the top of your stomach or in the esophagus)
- Regurgitation (sour-tasting acids backing up into your mouth)
- Burping, hiccups
- Nausea, bloating
- Sore throat, hoarse voice
- Dry cough, wheezing
Chemotherapy can cause mouth and throat sores, which may also create a burning feeling. Check with your doctor to find the cause of your acid reflux symptoms.
What to avoid
- Acidic foods: tomatoes, citrus (oranges, lemons, etc.), garlic, onions, chocolate, mint, spicy foods, mustard, smoked/cured meats, and alcoholic beverages
- Caffeine: coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks
- Meals high in dairy and red meat
- Wearing a tight belt or clothing
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What you can do to soothe acid reflux
- Eat smaller meals, more frequently. A big meal can increase the pressure against the muscle sphincter between your stomach and esophagus. If you are overweight, losing weight may reduce symptoms.
- Stay upright for at least a half hour after eating; avoid bending over, exercising, or lying down during this time.
- Elevate your shoulders and head 5-8 inches by putting bricks or books under the legs at the head of your bed. (Using pillows to prop yourself up may cause neck or back pain.)
- Nap sitting up in a chair.
- Keep a journal of what seems to trigger symptoms, and avoid your triggers.
- Talk to your doctor before stopping or starting any medicines or supplements; some can cause or worsen acid reflux. Ask what medication would be recommended for your reflux.
Medications for acid reflux
- Antacids neutralize stomach acid. There are a few kinds:
- Sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer®) may not be suitable for those with high blood pressure.
- Calcium carbonate (Tums®) may cause constipation.
- Aluminum-based (Amphojel®) may also cause constipation.
- Magnesium-based (Milk of Magnesia®) may cause diarrhea.
- Aluminum-magnesium combinations (Maalox®, Mylanta®) have less risk of diarrhea or constipation.
- Foaming agents (Gaviscon®) help keep stomach contents from entering the esophagus.
- Acid reducers include H2 blockers (famotidine, ranitidine) and proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole, lansoprazole) decrease the amount of acid your stomach produces.
- Prokinetics (metoclopramide, urecholine) strengthen the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus and help empty your stomach faster.
Remember to always drink a full glass of water when taking medicine.