What is heartburn? It happens when the acid in your stomach splashes up your esophagus (the tube that runs from your mouth to your stomach that moves the food when you swallow). Stomach acid is essential to the digestion process but can cause problems in many people. Heartburn can happen sparsely or frequently and there are several different signs or symptoms.
Do you have burning in your chest behind your breastbone that lasts a few minutes or longer? This symptom usually occurs after eating. What about a burning sensation in your throat, or a bad taste that comes back up. Do you feel like there is food lodged in the middle of your chest or do you have trouble swallowing. How about chest pain when lying down, bending at the waist, or directly after eating. Chest pain can be serious, so make sure to check with your doctor to see if it is in fact heartburn or something more severe like a heart attack.
What can you do to prevent these unpleasant feelings? There are quite a few simple changes that should be able to combat it. Most of these tips are free and relatively easy to accomplish. I’ve tried several; they work pretty well and have kept my doctor from prescribing me acid reflux medicine.
Don’t wear clothes that are too restricting, this pushes on your stomach. No super tight skinny jeans, no belts that are so tight they feel like they will cut you in half. Don’t eat too much or too fast, gulping food down isn’t a good thing to do. This is one that I still need to work on. We travelled a lot and ate supper later than most when I was a kid and I got used to hurrying while eating. Your food must be chewed thoroughly to aid the digestions process (I read this also helps with weight loss, bonus!). You could try to lose weight if you are overweight; this also takes pressure off your stomach. Typically the first weight you lose is around your internal organs.
Eat at least two hours before you go to bed. This allows you to digest the food and the acid levels to normalize before lying down. A good tip is to lie on your left side when going to bed, research shows this helps due to body design. I used this trick when I was pregnant and got used to lying that way. You could also prop the bed us about 4″ or purchase a special wedge to keep you elevated.
Stay away from foods that cause your heartburn. A good way to do this is by keeping a food journal for a few weeks. Some more common triggers are drinks with caffeine (think soda and coffee), alcohol, fatty foods, onions, tomatoes, citrus, and chocolate. I’ve found that coffee, soda, and certain ice cream flavors (mint chocolate chip for sure) trigger mine later in the evening.
Quitting smoking can help reduce heartburn. Nicotine can cause the sphincter in the esophagus to relax which then lets the acid escape easier.
Other options include antacids like Tums or Rolaids or medications that reduce the production of acid like Zantac. I use Tums to combat mine when I forget and have the late night ice cream snack. Usually two will do the trick for me even though you can take more as needed. Acid blockers take longer to work (no immediate relief, they typically take a half hour to kick in), but the end result is they help for a longer period of time. There are other medications that reduce acid production and help heal the esophagus, they are proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec or Prevacid.
If you have frequent heartburn (it occurs more than twice a week), you could have acid reflux disease which is also known as GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease). Some symptoms of GERD are burping, bloating, long term hiccups, bloody vomiting and stools, nausea, and chronic sore throat.
If these simple recommendations don’t seem to help, contact your doctor for an evaluation and other options. Further testing may be requested by your doctor to confirm your diagnosis. They might monitor your pH by placing a device in your esophagus for a day or two to check your levels. An endoscopy might be performed. They use a long, lighted tube to look at your esophagus and stomach. Sometimes a biopsy is taken during this procedure so they can check for abnormalities or infection in the tissue. Another test that could be performed is a Barium swallow test. It’s just what is sounds like, you swallow a solution, and then they take x-rays. During this test, they check for narrowing of your esophagus and stomach ulcers.