No Love for Heartburn - PIH Health

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Published on January 14, 2016

No Love for Heartburn

Girl with heartburn

Girl with heartburnThe burning discomfort of heartburn in your chest is not uncommon. It happens every now and then to even the healthiest of people. Pregnancy can also increase the risk of experiencing heartburn. It's caused when the flow of acids from your stomach back up into your esophagus.

“Spicy foods, citrus & tomato products, caffeinated food and drinks - even chocolate, can cause heartburn after you eat. It may be worse at night when you’re lying down,” says John Lah MD.  “Occasional heartburn is easily managed with over-the-counter medications in conjunction with lifestyle changes. However, if you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice a week or it’s interfering with your daily life, that may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be discussed with your doctor.”

Additional Known Triggers:

  • Onions, garlic
  • Tomato products, such as ketchup
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Alcohol, carbonated beverages
  • Smoking

OTC Treatments:

Over-the-counter medications like antacids, H-2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors (for example: Prevacid 24HR and Prilosec OTC) offer quick relief by reducing stomach acid; but they don’t heal any damage to the esophagus.  

Lifestyle Changes:

  • Healthy weight — being overweight pushes your stomach up causing acid to back up into your esophagus
  • Comfortable clothing — tight-fitting clothes can put pressure on your abdomen, again causing acid back-flow
  • Avoid late meals — wait at least 3 hours before lying down after a meal
  • Elevate your body from the waist up — just raising your head with additional pillows may not be effective
  • Avoid smoking — smoking prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from functioning properly, which in turn allows the back-flow of acids
  • Small, frequent meals – large portions over extend the stomach. Eat six meals a day if possible and it’s best to have a light meal at dinner

When to See a Doctor

Fortunately, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, but some of the symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, so seek help immediately if you experience severe chest pain or pressure in combination with pain in the arm or jaw or difficulty breathing to rule out heart related concerns.

You should also talk to your doctor if:

  • Over-the-counter medications don’t work or you rely on them often
  • Heartburn occurs more than twice a week
  • You have difficulty swallowing
  • You have persistent nausea or vomiting
  • You are bleeding from your mouth or see blood in a bowel movement

These may indicate a more serious condition, beyond just acid reflux, requiring more extensive medical evaluation.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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