Truth About Heartburn

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It's Friday night, and you're heading home to bed after a full, rich meal and drinks. What a great way to start the weekend, right? Not if you're one of the 20 million Americans who suffer from heartburn once a week! Heartburn happens when a small valve called the lower esophageal sphincter opens and allows stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus, causing that burning feeling. Many of us pop an after dinner pill to ease our symptoms, but that may not always be wise — heartburn CAN be a serious matter. If you have heartburn 2 or more times a week, get a checkup — you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease — or GERD — which if left untreated can lead to cancer. You're more likely to suffer from heartburn if you're overweight or a smoker. The nicotine in cigarettes weakens that stomach sphincter, thus allowing acid to splash up. Whether you suffer from occasional attacks or something more serious, there are lifestyle changes you can make to ease your symptoms. For help with that, we turned to WebMD Dietitian Elaine Magee.

Elaine Magee, RD, MPH
Let's start with the foods that you need to eliminate or reduce in your diet: Fried and fatty foods; drinks with caffeine; garlic and onions; peppermint and mint flavoring; citrus fruits; tomato products; chili and spices; and don't cry now … alcohol and chocolate.

But can you really control these factors when you eat out? Elaine says yes, if you're willing to be a food detective.

Elaine & Waiter
Are you ready to order?
Can I ask you a few questions first
Is this dish deep fried? Can it be steamed, grilled or broiled instead of fried? Can I have the sauce on the side?
One last question
Can I substitute salad or streamed veggies instead of the french fries with this dish?

Elaine has a few more tips: Eat early! You really need 3-4 hours to digest that food before lying down; avoid large portions that stuff your stomach; eat slowly - your brain needs time to register the fact that it's no longer hungry - and chew! Chewing encourages saliva, which bathes the esophagus and gives it a bit of protection. But remember, is these tips don't work ... visit your doctor. After all, you want to be able to enjoy all your Friday nights heartburn free. For WebMD, I'm Sandee LaMotte.