Belching can lead to death

Thursday September 8 2011

By Ivan Okuda

When Ken Okullo(not real name) sat for a highly decisive jobinterview, his confidence and self-esteem, boosted by his rich curriculum vitae, diminished at once when he belched during the most crucial stage of his aptitude test. “So many thoughts came to my mind, perhaps they had seen me as a glutton devoid of self-discipline or worse still, an employee without respect for superiors,” the job seeker sorrowfully recalls.

Medically, belching is a symptomatic side effect that arises from concentration of acids in the gastro intestinal tract, commonly called the digestive system. In other words, belching should not just be taken as a mere sign of over-eating; its causes can be a warning sign of grave digestive disorders.

Causes of belching
Dr Henry Bukenya, a general practitioner at Mulago National Referral Hospital, says that one of the principle causes of belching is concentration of acids in the abdomen. “This is brought about by the type of food we eat and the quantities in which they are taken. many citrus fruits like oranges and lemons contain a lot of acid.” The same is true for some carbohydrate rich foods like sweet potatoes. This perhaps explains why, during harvest seasons of such crops, children will always belch as a result of eating them in excess quantities.

A related cause of belching is indigestion, technically referred to as dyspepsia. This is when some of the food we take in does not get digested. This is why it is common to see maize or rice grains in children’s excreta.

Indigestion coupled with over consumption of carbonate foodstuffs like eggs is responsible for the smell that comes out when we belch. When Nalugo, a mother of three gave her four-year-old daughter lots of water during Idd celebrations, as a local cure for belching, little did she know that, “belching is sometimes caused by complications of the digestive system, what we call gastritis (acute and chronic).

This causes inflammation of the stomach lining, making it appear reddish like a wound,” Dr Bukenya says.He adds that this is why belching is more prevalent in patients of peptic and gastric ulcers. Food poisoning which can either be caused by malicious poisoning using toxic substances or over eating also leads to belching.

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In the latter, the stomach swells due to over loading leading to concentration of several food stuffs, each with its own components. a mixture of the reactions brings about belching. Once in a while, we all get to taste a dish for the first time. It could be Chinese, Indian or even that local delicacy, say eshabwe. Sometimes we have a dish after several years of abstinence which can all lead to food poisoning. Dr. Henry Bukenya calls it, “Introducing a foreign body into the digestive system.”

What could go wrong?
Besides the social effects like loss of self-esteem, resulting from polluting the atmosphere of those around you, belching can have many more adverse effects and if not addressed, can result in loss of life.

Dr. Bukenya adds, “Usually, as one belches, especially among children, the tongue may fall back, blocking the air way and taking one’s life away.” He advises parents to look out for such and, “not take every case of belching as normal or just a reaction to over eating but seek medical attention immediately.”

Dr Bukenya says that some times, belching is for relief purposes and helps to stabilise the digestive system. For remedies, Dr. Bukenya insists that the root cause of belching should first be identified, “You can’t stop belching unless you identify the cause.” He adds that pain killers like antiemetics can come in handy but only after medical instruction. However, if the belching is as a result of ulcers, taking antiulcer medication can relieve you from the offensive and smelly act of belching.

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