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 the...
"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
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
To prevent heartburn, the National Heartburn Alliance offers
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Don't wear tight clothing or belts -- it just makes heartburn
- Minimize stress. Plan ahead to avoid the last-minute holiday
crunch. When schedules are packed, try meditation and other
stress-relieving activities. Too much stress can make heartburn seem worse.
Stress can also lead to other risky behaviors like overeating and drinking.
Instead of lying down after the big meal, take a walk with the
family, Peura advises. "Go out and play a little football rather than
sitting and watching it," he says.
By all means, if you're predisposed to heartburn, take one of
the acid-lowering over-the-counter drugs, Peura tells WebMD. "And if you're
on prescription medicine, this is not a time to forget taking it."