Americans celebrate with food and lots of it. Those big holiday dinners, the
parties, happy hours, and shopping sprees -- we love that stuff.
So what's the problem? It's a big fat recipe for a bad case of heartburn.
Alcohol, caffeine, -- plus eating too much rich, fatty food - is a slippery
slope to indigestion. The holiday dinner is especially a problem. Once you've
stuffed yourself, then moved to the couch, you're in trouble.
There was a time when it didn’t take much to set off Sara Perlman-Smith’s heartburn. Spicy foods, alcohol, even a foul mood could send a burning wave rushing up her throat. "I could feel the acid in my esophagus," she recalls. "It was just a consistent burning pain in my chest."
Then there was the constant burping. "A lot of times that would make me feel a little better," says Perlman-Smith, 38, a stay-at-home mom in Hallsville, Mo. "But a lot of the time if it was a really bad episode, I’d just...
"We all want a really full stomach by the time the football game comes
on," says John Affronti, MD, a professor of gastroenterology at Emory
University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "But when you kick back in the
La-Z-Boy recliner, you're tilting the stomach - which allows stomach acid to
spill into the esophagus."
Heartburn is partly a mechanical problem, Affronti explains. There's a
little muscle that controls all of this that sits between the esophagus and the
stomach. That muscle gradually relaxes as we get older -- which means stomach
acid has easier access to the esophagus.
When we're standing, gravity helps keep stomach acid from migrating upward.
But when we go horizontal -- and especially when a full stomach is applying
internal pressure -- stomach acid gets pushed into the esophagus. Extra pounds
around your waistline only add to that internal pressure.
Also, excess fatty food means digestion slows to a crawl, which makes
heartburn a virtual certainty, explains Affronti.
Taming the Heartburn Beast
Run-of-the-mill heartburn is easy to treat, says Braden Kuo, MD, a
gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"This is particularly relevant at holiday times, where there is
increased use of alcohol, after-dinner mints, desserts, and the overstuffing of
the GI tract," he tells WebMD. "All these factors can make heartburn
worse. There's nothing wrong with treating it more aggressively with OTC or
prescription medicines during those times."
For best results, take your heartburn medicine before heartburn starts -
before sitting down to that big holiday meal or heading to the party buffet, he
advises. You have a lot of options from which to choose: