Health Tip of the Month: Heartburn

Greasy foods like pizza or barbecue can also trigger heartburn, then again, maybe it's the spicy pepperoni or tomato sauce...

Greasy foods like pizza or barbecue can also trigger heartburn, then again, maybe it’s the spicy pepperoni or tomato sauce…

Heartburn and acid reflux are pretty common ailments for people today, especially with the fast food diets so many of us indulge in from time to time. It can be a minor annoyance, or it can be a serious problem, but there are ways to get it under control.

What’s the difference between heartburn and reflux?

Heartburn tends to be just a burning sensation in your chest, usually occurring after a big meal that included certain foods that are triggers for the sensation. Reflux is a little more serious and uncomfortable, in which some of the acid and juices from your stomach make their way back up your esophagus to give you a burning feeling in your mouth and throat, especially after belching, which can bring some of the acid up with the air in your stomach.

Another big issue that comes with experiencing heartburn and reflux is that many sufferers get heartburn at night when they sleep. This is an unfortunate side effect of gravity. Yes, that’s right, gravity. When you’re sitting or standing up, the reflux has to combat gravity to make its way up your esophagus, but at night when you’re sleeping, it only has to move sideways, parallel to the gravitational forces, to move out of your stomach and up your esophagus.

As with many dietary and digestive issues, moderation can relieve or even eliminate the negative effects you experience, so the tip of the month is:


First, find out what your heartburn and reflux triggers are.

These can vary from one person to another, so don’t believe everything you read. Personally, RAW tomatoes, raw onions (especially red onions!), lemon, and beer are some of the main foods that bother me, but you may have more trouble with garlic, orange juice, or peppermint.

In general, acidic foods (like tomatoes), spicy foods (like chili and garlic flavors), and carbonated beverages (like beer and soda) are common triggers for heartburn or reflux, but if you can take the time to pin down exactly what types of foods bother you, you can better avoid them or eat them in moderation the next time.

The best way to do this is to keep a journal of what you eat, and then also note when you experience heartburn.

After you sort out which foods are the source of the problem, you can work on how to adjust your diet and eating habits to avoid heartburn altogether.

What about heartburn when I’m asleep?

A good way to avoid heartburn when you sleep is to eat several hours before you go to bed. That gives your stomach more time to digest your food while you’re still upright. But, if it’s a dinner party or a late night, that may not be an option. In that case, sleeping while propped up on two or three pillows can help you avoid heartburn symptoms after you go to bed. The elevated position keeps the reflux from being able to back up through your esophagus as easily, and if your sinuses are draining, you can knock out two birds with one stone sleeping like this! Still, if you’re already experiencing symptoms before you go to bed, it’s best to take an antacid before you lie down.

Can’t I just take antacids?

Of course you can! Antacids are an excellent way to keep your heartburn under control, but if you experience heartburn regularly, even daily (or nightly), or if you don’t like having to remember to take another pill every day, adjusting your eating habits can be an alternative way to avoid heartburn, or at least limit how frequently it occurs.

Some antacids work immediately, but only after you have eaten or after you experience symptoms, like TUMS. Others, you can take in advance to prevent heartburn, like Prevacid. If you’re not sure which one you should take, you can talk to your doctor about which one might be best for you, or you can try a few brands to see which one offers the most relief of your symptoms.

Source: Mayo Clinic’s article on heartburn and GERD

Photo: Flickr user prettywar-stl

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The information on this website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition. Please consult your doctor before attempting any of the exercises, remedies, or health tips on this website to make sure you are healthy enough to do so.
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