Doctors call it reflux. You probably call it heartburn. But whatever it's
called, no one wants to experience the unpleasant sensations of heartburn -- a
burning chest pain that moves up toward the throat, and an
acid or bitter taste accompanied by a feeling that whatever you just ate is
coming back into your mouth or throat.
Almost everyone has had heartburn from time to time -- maybe at
Thanksgiving, after overdosing on turkey and pie, and a few glasses of wine,
and then lying around all day watching football. But about 20% of the U.S.
population experiences reflux at least weekly. Some, who have severe,
persistent heartburn, may have a more serious condition called
gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD -- which can contribute to a wide range of
other health problems, including a precancerous condition called Barrett's
If you're one of the 40 million Americans who have heartburn symptoms at
least once a week -- or even among the 60 million more who have heartburn
symptoms at least once a month -- you're probably always looking for new ways
to relieve that acid reflux.
Even if your heartburn symptoms aren't severe and frequent enough to require
prescription medication, you can still get a lot of help in managing your acid
reflux from your local pharmacist. Pharmacists are savvy about not only
One key to controlling heartburn is to know your personal triggers. After
all, although some foods and lifestyle habits are common heartburn triggers,
they don't affect all people the same way. One person with heartburn can
happily eat citrus fruit, while another ends up miserable less than an hour
after a big glass of orange juice.
Here are three ways to start identifying your personal heartburn
1. Know the Common Causes of Heartburn
Here are top foods and behaviors most commonly linked to heartburn:
Eating large meals, eating later in the day, and eating fatty foods. These
"top three" triggers affect almost everyone who has heartburn, says
gastroenterologist Charlene Prather, MD, an associate professor of medicine at
St. Louis University School of Medicine.
Chocolate. This one, unfortunately, is also reasonably consistent, hitting
most heartburn sufferers.
Coffee and caffeinated drinks. "Some people have trouble with coffee
and caffeine, while others don't," says Prather.
Citrus products, like oranges and orange juice. While caffeine actually
induces reflux, says Prather, citrus just mimics the feeling because of its
Garlic, onions, and other spicy foods.
Tomatoes. "They tend to be more of a problem when they're cooked than
when they're raw, but both can bring on heartburn," Prather says.
Alcohol. All types of alcohol can trigger heartburn, but red wine
apparently is particularly troublesome for some people.
2. Use a Food Diary to Track Heartburn Triggers
One way to track which of these common triggers affects you most is by
keeping a food
diary, says Robert Sandler, MD, MPH, chief of the division of
gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill. He's also a board member of the National Heartburn Alliance. "If you
think something has triggered your reflux, write it down."
Keeping a food diary can help your doctor determine what's causing your
symptoms. But be sure that what you're writing down is really reflux. Many
people mistake other symptoms -- stomach problems and problems in the esophagus
-- for reflux.