June 30. 2011
by Dan Silveira
I have been diving for 19 years, and I am happy to say that for the most part, I've never had severe heartburn on a dive until recently. I was coming up from a dive when suddenly a sharp burning pain occurred in my esophagus. It felt like someone was pouring hot tea down my throat. I continued to dive and the symptoms escalated and got worse. It got to the point that the pain was debilitating, and forced me to stop diving for the day. I quickly realized that I needed to learn about my problem in hopes to find a solution. I don’t ever want to experience heartburn while diving again!
From the info that I dug up, it seemed like there could be multiple contributing factors to heartburn.
1. Foods and drinks that cause you to produce more stomach acid:
2. Immersion causes Increased pressure on stomach and can distort the stomach-esophagus valve so that it leaks more easily.
3. A tight wetsuit or a tight weight belt around your stomach can also increase pressure on your stomach, and might be a small factor.
4. When you are inverted gravity will increase any stomach acid leakage into the esophagus if the stomach-esophagus valve is not well sealed.
5. I think that some people have damaged or defective stomach-esophagus valves or other medical issues that require surgery or special medications or treatment from a doctor (see the links below about treatments).
For prevention, there are few kinds of medicine. Some help reduce neutralize acid in your stomach. Others help to decrease the amount of stomach acid your body produces. There are over the counter medicines and more powerful prescription ones you can get if you see a doctor. There are also surgical options. Here are some pretty good descriptions of the options:
The approach I am going to try for dive trips is to be more careful about what I eat, and take a Pepcid Complete (over the counter medicine that both neutralizes acid and decreases acid production), 1 every 12 hours. If I still get heartburn, I'll use some liquid Mylanta medicine to help relieve the symptoms. It also contains antacids to help neutralizes acid in the stomach, and I think that it coats your esophagus and stomach to reduce irritation from the acid. I haven't really had a chance to try it out since I haven't done any trips since I got the new info.
As you can see from this link, Terry Maas wrote about heartburn in the physiology chapter of his freedive book. The info on the link is limited, but the book has much more details about the issue.
You may want to double check facts of these statements or consult with a doctor before using any of the information listed above. The info I have gathered was through the help of my friends Tom Fiene and Paul Young who started experiencing heartburn before I did. They had done much of the research, and when I finally experienced the same heartburn problems, I asked them for the info they had already dug up.
As of now, I have not had any reoccurring issues with heartburn.
Here is what I did: