If you're one of the 40 million Americans who have heartburn symptoms at least once a week -- or even among the 60 million more who have heartburn symptoms at least once a month -- you're probably always looking for new ways to relieve that acid reflux.
Even if your heartburn symptoms aren't severe and frequent enough to require prescription medication, you can still get a lot of help in managing your acid reflux from your local pharmacist. Pharmacists are savvy about not only prescription heartburn medicine, but also over-the-counter remedies and even lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in easing day-to-day heartburn.
For most people, heartburn is a treatable symptom. Frequent heartburn may indicate acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. When treatment doesn't work and heartburn is severe despite lifestyle changes, surgery may be an option. It may also be an option if GERD causes other medical problems. Minimally invasive procedures using endoscopy are also available to treat acid reflux.
In many cases, you may be able to prevent acid reflux before it starts, says Wayne Weart, PharmD, professor of clinical pharmacy and outcome sciences and professor of family medicine with the South Carolina College of Pharmacy, the Medical University of South Carolina campus. "Pay close attention to what you're eating, when you're eating it, and what you're doing right after eating."
Replace large, heavy meals with several smaller, lighter meals.
Don't lie down or nap for two to three hours after eating.
Avoid exercise, bending, and stooping for a couple of hours after eating.
What about spicy foods? Alcohol? Caffeine? Don't they aggravate acid reflux?
For some people, but not others, says Weart. "Fatty foods are pretty universal triggers of heartburn symptoms, but some people with heartburn can eat spicy foods without a flare-up, while others can't."
Most people can identify the foods that trigger acid reflux for them, but if you're not sure, try keeping a diary for a week. Write down what you eat, and when you have heartburn symptoms. You should be able to identify the foods you need to steer clear of.
Other lifestyle changes that may help minimize your heartburn symptoms:
If you are overweight, losing a few pounds can help ease heartburn, as can quitting smoking if you're a smoker.
Get a wedge pillow for your bed, or even raise the entire head of the bed on blocks 6 to 8 inches. "Let gravity work for you," says Weart. But don't prop yourself up on regular pillows. "You'll be bending in the middle and increase gastric pressure."
Avoid tight-fitting clothing, especially anything that is binding around the middle.
Certain medications worsen or cause heartburn. These include medications used to treat asthma, cardiovascular conditions, osteoporosis, arthritis, and inflammation. If you think your medicine may be causing acid reflux, ask your doctor if there are alternative drugs that offer the same benefit without the heartburn.