I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing!

Woman with heartburnHeartburn, or the more technical term gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD), is essentially caused by food and stomach acid reversing direction and traveling uphill via the esophagus. This is supposed to be prevented by the esophageal sphincter muscle. However, there are certain conditions in which this muscle fails to do its job: 1) increased pressure in the stomach from being overfull that overwhelms the muscle, and 2) consuming certain foods or beverages that can decrease the esophageal sphincter pressure.

The good news is there are several things we can do to avoid heartburn/GERD:

  •  Lose weight, if overweight
  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Eat slowly to better digest your food
  • Avoid overeating
  • Avoid lying down within 3 hours of a meal
  • If you get heartburn from exercise, avoid eating too soon before a workout
  • Raise the head of your bed 6-8 inches by securing wood blocks under the bedposts (just using pillows will not help)
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes (especially around waist area to lessen stomach pressure)
  • Chew gum to make saliva, which can neutralize stomach acid
  • Avoid common foods/beverages that can cause or worsen reflux
    • Citrus fruits/juices
    • Chocolate
    • Drinks with caffeine or alcohol
    • Fatty and fried foods
    • Garlic and onions
    • Mint flavorings
    • Spicy foods
    • Tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili, and pizza

Finally, over-the-counter antacids may help. Taking calcium-containing antacids can also provide a supplemental source of calcium for your bones and teeth. But if heartburn persists you should see your doctor, as chronic reflux can do permanent damage to your esophagus.

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