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Why do you get heartburn and acid reflux?

Heartburn is quite common. In fact, 36 percent of healthy people have heartburn at least once a month. Changing your eating and lifestyle habits can help you reduce heartburn pain. This article will provide you with helpful ideas to get some relief from this uncomfortable complaint.

Why do I get heartburn?

When you eat, food travels down through your esophagus and into the stomach. When you have heartburn, some food and stomach acid may go back into the esophagus. This causes burning in the lower part of the chest, also known as heartburn.

My doctor said my heartburn is caused by GERD. What does that mean?

Many people have heartburn once in a while, especially after eating certain foods. Heartburn during pregnancy is also common. However, when heartburn becomes a chronic and frequent problem, your doctor may tell you that you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

With GERD, food and acid come back up from your stomach and irritate the esophagus. This is called acid reflux. Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD.

If you have a hiatal hernia, you also may develop GERD. A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of the stomach sticks out above the diaphragm. Having a hiatal hernia makes it more likely that acid will back up from your stomach. Sometimes you won’t know that you have a hiatal hernia until you develop GERD.

How can I prevent or manage heartburn?

Changing your lifestyle or eating habits may prevent mild heartburn. Here are some suggestions you can try.

Avoid foods that may cause heartburn
Certain foods can increase the backup of stomach acid and make your heartburn worse. The foods that trigger heartburn are different for each person. One or more of these common foods may cause your heartburn:
• Peppermint
• Spices
• Chocolate
• Citrus fruits and juices such as orange or grapefruit
• Onions
• Garlic
• Tomato products such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, salsa and pizza 

Cut back on foods that are high in fat:

Fatty foods may cause heartburn, so it’s important to:
• Choose lower fat meat and alternatives, such as skinless poultry, fish and lean meats. Try legumes such as chickpeas, tofu and lentils instead.
• Choose lower fat dairy products. Stick with 1% or skim milk and yogurt. Use cheese less often and choose cheese with less than 20% milk fat.
• Reduce the intake of high fat desserts, such as ice cream, cake, cookies and pie.
• Eat fewer greasy and deep fried foods, such as donuts and French fries.
• Limit fat used in cooking and at the table to 30-45 mL (2 to 3 tbsp) per day.   Choose unsaturated fat most often, such as olive, canola and soybean oil.

Pay attention to when and how you eat

Lying down or bending over can bring on heartburn or make it worse. To help prevent heartburn:
• Eat meals while sitting up, not while lying back or reclining. Do not lie down for 45 to 60 minutes after meals.
• Avoid eating for two to three hours before bed. 

Changing these lifestyle factors may also help relieve your heartburn pain:
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight pushes on the stomach and may increase acid backup, which causes heartburn.
• Do not eat large amounts of food at one time.
• Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
• Quit smoking. Smoking weakens the part of the esophagus that keeps acid out.
• Stand upright or sit up straight. Maintain good posture. Sitting straight will help keep stomach acid down and prevent or reduce reflux.
• Avoid tight pants. They can squeeze the stomach, push acid back up and increase reflux.
• Raise the head of your bed by six inches by securing blocks under the bedposts. Being at an angle will help stop stomach acid from moving up into your esophagus. Simply using more pillows won't help.

What if diet and lifestyle changes don’t help me?

When you need short-term heartburn relief, antacids can help. Antacids are medicines that reduce stomach acid. Speak to your doctor if heartburn occurs more than three times per week or if antacids don’t help. The doctor may give you a medicine that stops acid reflux. Some people may need surgery.  
Note: If you have heartburn plus vomiting, low iron, weight loss or chest pain, see your doctor right away.  

The bottom line:

For mild heartburn, the lifestyle and nutrition tips found above should help you prevent the burning pain. If you find that these tips don’t work for you, or if heartburn occurs a few times each week, follow up with your doctor. If you have GERD, you may need medicine in addition to the lifestyle changes. 

Source: Med Citizen, March 23, 2010


By Mortin - Copyright 2010
Last modification 07/04/2010