Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Various lifestyle and dietary factors can contribute to heartburn by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter and allowing it to open, increasing the amount of acid in the stomach, increasing stomach pressure, or by making the esophagus more sensitive to harsh acids. These factors include:
- Eating large portions
- Eating certain foods, including onions, chocolate, peppermint, high-fat or spicy foods, citrus fruits, garlic, and tomatoes or tomato-based products
- Drinking certain beverages, including citrus juices, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and carbonated drinks
- Eating before bedtime
- Being overweight
- Wearing tight-fitting clothing or belts
- Lying down or bending over, especially after eating
Some of the medical causes for heartburn include:
- Bulging of part of the stomach into the chest cavity, also called hiatal hernia
- Taking certain medications, especially some antibiotics and NSAIDS, including aspirin
Treating heartburn requires adjustments to your lifestyle, diet, medications, and possibly surgery if your heartburn is due to GERD or a hiatal hernia.
Tips to Alleviate Heartburn Symptoms
- Raise the head of your bed about 6 inches to allow gravity to help keep the stomach's contents in the stomach. (Do not use piles of pillows because this puts your body into a bent position that actually aggravates the condition by increasing pressure on the abdomen. Instead, put books under the legs of the bed to raise it up.)
- Eat meals at least three to four hours before lying down and avoid bedtime snacks.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Maintain a healthy weight to eliminate unnecessary intra-abdominal pressure caused by extra pounds.
- Limit consumption of fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tea, colas, and alcohol -- all of which can relax the lower esophageal sphincter -- and tomatoes and citrus fruits or juices, which contribute additional acid that can irritate the esophagus.
Consider an elimination diet to see what foods bother you.
- Avoid constipation.
- Give up smoking, which also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Wear loose belts and clothing.
Medicines used to treat heartburn can range from over-the-counter remedies to prescription medicine.