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Heartburn: Spot Your Personal Triggers

Some foods and habits commonly trigger heartburn, while others affect only certain people.

2. Use a Food Diary to Track Heartburn Triggers continued...

"There is a group of functional disorders of the GI tract, and reflux is one member of that family, but there are others," says Sandler. "The typical feeling of reflux is a warm or burning sensation in the sternum that moves up toward the throat. If that's not what you're experiencing, you may not have reflux but something else."

So when keeping track of your triggers, write down what the symptoms feel like as well as what you ate and what you did beforehand.

Also, note the timing of your heartburn symptoms. "Other gastrointestinal conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, do not necessarily produce symptoms right after eating," says Prather. "But with reflux, you'll usually experience the heartburn symptoms within an hour after you ate the food that triggered it."

3. Avoid Heartburn With 'Clean Slate Eating'

What if you go out for Italian food and eat a meal with tomato sauce and red wine, only to experience that familiar burning sensation less than an hour later? How can you tell if it was the sauce, the wine, or both? You can't, says Prather. So the most effective way of finding your personal triggers is to start with a clean slate.

"Eliminate all the foods that are known to cause heartburn from your diet, and then add them back one by one, to find out which ones are causing the most problems for you," she says.

You can also minimize the effects of a heartburn-inducing food, like chocolate, by eating small amounts, only as part of a smaller meal, and not eating too late. "You might do fine with a big meal at breakfast but find yourself miserable if you eat a lot at dinner," Prather says. "And don't exercise vigorously or lie down for a couple of hours after eating. Instead, go for a walk. That helps your stomach to empty more."

And remember, you don't have to suffer in silence. If you have occasional heartburn that doesn't trouble you too much, over-the-counter antacids can help take care of the problem. But chronic, troublesome heartburn is a sign that you should see your doctor.

"People often think heartburn is just something they have to live with," says Sandler. "But people with diabetes don't go without insulin, and people with high blood pressure don't go without their medications. For some people, heartburn is a chronic condition and it needs to be treated that way."

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Reviewed on August 04, 2008

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