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
One way to track which of these common triggers affects you most is by
keeping a food
diary, says Robert Sandler, MD, MPH, chief of the division of
gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. He's also a board member of the National Heartburn Alliance. "If you
think something has triggered your reflux, write it down."
Keeping a food diary can help your doctor determine what's causing your
symptoms. But be sure that what you're writing down is really reflux. Many
people mistake other symptoms -- stomach problems and problems in the esophagus
-- for reflux.
"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."