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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Heartburn 101

Got a burning, burping feeling in your chest? Learn what causes it, how you can manage it, and when to see your doctor.
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Lifestyle Remedies for Heartburn

Heartburn can be a real pain, but you can help prevent it by making some simple changes to your routine. First, watch what you eat. Having more food in your stomach keeps more acid moving into your esophagus. Instead of gorging, graze on smaller portions of food throughout the day. Avoid the most notorious heartburn triggers: chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.

Watch the fat in your meals, too, because both consuming high-fat foods and being overweight can cause heartburn. "If you have extra weight in your belly, basically what you’re doing is putting pressure on the stomach," Marrero says. That added pressure pushes more stomach acid up into your esophagus.

Nighttime can be a real nightmare for heartburn sufferers. Approximately one in four Americans has heartburn attacks at night. When you’re lying in bed, gravity works against you, keeping that corrosive acid stuck in your esophagus. You might have heard the advice to raise the head of your bed 6 to 9 inches, which can help. But Marrero says it’s not always practical if you share a bed. He says a better solution is to stop eating two to three hours before bedtime so that you go to sleep with an empty stomach.

Heartburn Treatments

If lifestyle changes don’t help and your heartburn doesn’t let up, your doctor might recommend an antacid to neutralize stomach acids or an acid-blocking drug, such as an H2 blocker. Then, Marrero says, "if someone is having really severe symptoms almost every day, we will go to a stronger, more potent medicine called a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI." Recently, the FDA warned consumers about the risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures with PPIs. Marrero says these drugs are still safe, but he advises his patients to bone up on extra calcium and vitamin D while taking them.

You also can try other less traditional methods for heartburn relief, like chewing a stick of sugar-free gum. Chewing stimulates the production of saliva, a natural acid buffer. Plus, when you chew gum, you swallow more, which pushes acid back down your throat.

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