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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heartburn

Heartburn -- also called acid reflux or GERD -- occurs when muscles of the lower esophagus do not function properly. This causes food and acids from the stomach to leak back -- or reflux -- into the esophagus. Heartburn -- technically a symptom of GERD -- can be aggravated by foods, certain medications, and other factors. Here are some suggestions to improve your heartburn symptoms:

  • Don't go to bed with a full stomach. Eat meals at least two to three hours before lying down. This will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and gives acid levels a chance to decrease before putting your body in a position where heartburn is more likely to occur.
  • Don't overeat. Decrease the size of portions at meal times, or try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.
  • Eat slowly. Take time to eat -- don't rush. Try putting your fork down between bites.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Avoid heartburn triggers. Stay away from foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn symptoms (for example, onions, peppermint, chocolate, caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, citrus fruits or juices, tomatoes, or high-fat and spicy foods). A good way to figure out what foods cause your symptoms is to keep a heartburn diary.
  • Shed some pounds. If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve your symptoms.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to more easily enter the esophagus.
  • Avoid alcohol. If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, walking, meditation, stretching, or deep breathing instead of drinking alcohol.
  • Keep a diary or heartburn log. Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents.

If Your Heartburn Is Worse When Lying Down:

  • Raise the head of your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your feet. You can do this by placing six-inch blocks under the bed posts at the head of the bed. Don't use piles of pillows to achieve the same goal. You will only put your head at an angle that can increase pressure on your stomach and make your heartburn worse.
  • Eat earlier. Try not to eat for at least three hours before you go to sleep.

If Your Heartburn Worsens After Exercise:

  • Time your meals. Wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising. If you work out any sooner, you may trigger heartburn.
  • Drink more water. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise to prevent dehydration.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 26, 2014
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