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.
Laryngospasm is a rare but frightening experience. When it happens, the vocal cords suddenly seize up, blocking the flow of air into the lungs. People with this condition may be awakened from a sound sleep and find themselves momentarily unable to speak or breathe. Though it can be scary while it's happening, laryngospasm typically goes away within a couple of minutes.
"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:
Here are some over-the-counter heartburn medicines:
Antacids like Tums and Rolaids neutralize stomach acid to relieve
heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. These include
Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox.
Acid blockers reduce the production of stomach acid. They include Axid AR,
Pepcid AC, Prilosec OTC, Tagamet HB, and Zantac 75.
For severe heartburn that isn't relieved by these medications -- or for
anyone who has been using them for more than two weeks -- prescription medicine
may be necessary. The prescription forms of Axid, Pepcid, Prilosec, Tagamet,
and Zantac contain higher doses than the OTC versions. Prescription versions of
Prevacid and Nexium, as well as others, are also effective.