Dec. 3, 2001 -- What's the scene at your house after that massive holiday dinner? Some camped out in front of the football game, others napping? All that overeating and lounging around is certainly the downside to the holiday festivities -- and it's a sure-fire recipe for indigestion.
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease.
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This can create a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone.
With gravity's help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach -- below...
"People eat more than they would during the holidays, and they eat richer, fattier foods that are slow to empty in the stomach," says David Peura, MD, associate chief of gastroenterology at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville.
Peura is a spokesman for the National Heartburn Alliance, an organization dedicated to helping people find r-e-l-i-e-f.
Sitting around or napping after dinner -- watching football, the parades -- keeps all that food trapped. It may be relaxing, but lying down lets gravity give stomach acid an extra boost to creep into the esophagus. You know what happens next.
"Heartburn to most people is a burning discomfort under the breastbone," he tells WebMD. "It's the stomach feeling a need to vent."
Most cases of heartburn are brought on by foods high in fat. Chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruits, and tomato-based dishes also cause some people problems. Most drinks on the party circuit cause that rumbly-tumbly tummy, too.
To prevent heartburn, the National Heartburn Alliance offers these suggestions:
- Save overstuffing for the turkey. Eat smaller portions and try to avoid overeating, since a full stomach puts extra pressure on the little valve that keeps stomach acid out of the esophagus.
- Minimize late-night munching and after-dinner dozing. Merely being horizontal can encourage acid to creep into the esophagus and cause discomfort.
- Choose wisely from the buffet table. Try to avoid your personal food triggers.
- Add exercise to your holiday list -- it will get your digestive system moving. Get out and walk whenever possible, especially after big meals. Use the stairs when you can.
- Drink in moderation. Caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic drinks can contribute to heartburn. Opt for a non-irritating drink.
- Lighten up in your cooking. Use less fat in those favorite holiday recipes, substituting applesauce for butter in baking and broiling meat instead of baking; baste your turkey with a flavorful chicken stock instead of butter.