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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Frequently Asked Questions About Heartburn and Reflux

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4. I am pregnant and have terrible heartburn. Is there anything I can do to get relief?

More than half of all pregnant women report heartburn, particularly during their third trimester. Heartburn occurs during pregnancy, in part, because your digestive system works more slowly due to changing hormone levels. Also, your enlarged uterus can crowd your stomach, pushing stomach acids upward.

Here are some ways you can reduce your heartburn during pregnancy:

  • Eat several small meals each day instead of three large ones.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Avoid fried, spicy, or rich foods, or any foods that seem to increase your heartburn.
  • Don't lie down directly after eating.
  • Keep the head of your bed higher than the foot of your bed.
  • Ask your doctor about trying over-the-counter heartburn relievers such as Tums or Maalox.

If your heartburn persists, see your doctor. He or she may prescribe drugs that are safe to take during pregnancy.

5. What foods should a person avoid if he or she has heartburn, GERD, or Barrett's esophagus?

What's on your plate can impact heartburn, GERD, and Barrett's esophagus. Eating certain foods, including onions, peppermint, and high-fat foods, as well as drinking alcohol, can cause the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, which controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach, to relax. Usually, this muscle remains tightly closed except when food is swallowed. However, when this muscle fails to close, the acid-containing contents of the stomach can travel back up into the esophagus, producing a burning sensation commonly referred to as heartburn.

Caffeinated beverages and foods (such as coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate) can also aggravate heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Tomatoes, citrus fruits, or juices also contribute additional acid that can irritate the esophagus.

In addition, smoking relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, contributing to heartburn and GERD.

Improving your eating habits can also reduce reflux. After eating, keep an upright posture. Eat moderate portions of food and smaller meals. Lastly, eat meals at least three to four hours before lying down, and avoid bedtime snacks.

6. What is Barrett's esophagus and how is it treated?

Barrett's esophagus is a change in the lining of the lower esophagus that develops in some people who have chronic GERD or inflammation of the esophagus.

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