For people with heartburn, vacations have many perils: unusual foods,
irregular meal times, and our very human urge to overindulge.
"When people are on vacation, they eat a lot, they drink a lot, and they
don't sleep much," says David Carr-Locke, MD, director of endoscopy at
Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Unfortunately, for people with
GERD, that can bring on symptoms."
Not everyone with GERD has heartburn, but the primary symptoms of GERD are heartburn, regurgitation, and nausea.
Heartburn usually is described as a burning pain in the middle of the chest. It may start high in the abdomen or may extend up the neck or back. Sometimes the pain may be sharp or pressure-like, rather than burning. Such pain can mimic heart pain (angina). Typically, heartburn related to GERD is seen more commonly after a meal. Other symptoms of GERD include:
But everyone deserves to cut loose -- at least a little -- when on vacation.
So here are some tips on how to have fun and keep your heartburn symptoms at
Eat sensibly. "I know it sounds like no fun," says
Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, co-author of Healing Heartburn, and associate
professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "But you should still try to
eat carefully when you're on vacation, just like you would at home."
This doesn't mean you have to eat crackers and white rice while everyone
else savors the local cuisine. Just don't gorge on heartburn triggers, such as
high-fat foods, says Carr-Locke.
Drink moderately. Alcohol is a common trigger for
many people with GERD. So don't overindulge -- especially in drinks mixed with
citrus juices, another drink that can bring on GERD symptoms.
Don't go a long time between meals. In general, people
with heartburn should try to eat frequent, small meals. So don't get so hungry
you wind up gorging yourself; that's likely to cause heartburn. Try to build in
regular snacks throughout your day.
Wear loose clothing. Sure, you want to look good on
vacation -- but don't force yourself into a favorite bathing suit or outfit if
it's too tight. The pressure of restrictive clothing can bring on heartburn
symptoms. Instead, dress in something that is loose-fitting and
Get enough sleep -- but don't spend the whole vacation lying
down. While staying up late and not getting enough sleep can bring on
heartburn symptoms, so can sleeping too much, says Carr-Locke. When you lie
down, acid can more easily back into your esophagus. To get around this
problem, try propping up your hotel bed or sleeping on a pile of pillows, says
J. Patrick Waring, MD, a gastroenterologist at Piedmont Hospital in
Pack your medication. It should be obvious, but before you
leave the house, double-check you have the medicine you need, says Cheskin. If
possible, pack extra just in case.
Plan ahead. If you just know that you're going to wind up
eating and drinking a bit more than you should, take precautions.
"It would be better not to overdo it," says Cheskin, "but if you
know you're going to have a big meal anyway, it's better to take your
medications before you go out instead of waiting until after you have
heartburn." Ask your doctor if doubling up on your medicine might make
While taking precautions against heartburn may seem like a drag, remember
that your vacation will be more fun because of them.
SOURCES: American Gastroenterological
Association web site, "Heartburn." David Carr-Locke, MD, director,
endoscopy, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, FACP,
coauthor of Healing Heartburn; director and founder of the Johns
Hopkins Weight Management Center. J. Patrick Waring, MD, gastroenterologist,
Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta.