Photo by Evil Erin via Flickr
Heartburn? Oh, no. Not that again! You just finished a big, tasty meal at your friends house and leaned back in your chair to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Then you start feeling that burning pain under your breast bone, that is so uncomfortable that you can’t ignore it.
You try to bend over or lie down, but the burning sensation just gets worse. Eventually, you decide that staying upright is the only thing that seems to relieve some of the pain. Oh well, heartburn has destroyed another nice evening, you think to yourself. If you think there is nothing you can do to stop heartburn from ruining your fun, that’s not true. There are things that you can do to prevent or alleviate heartburn.
What causes heartburn?
First off, what is heartburn? Heartburn is a very common condition. Almost everyone has experienced it at some point in their life, but not many people are aware of what it is or what causes it. Even though the condition has the word heart in it, do not be confused. Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It was named that way because the discomfort occurs in the region of the chest where the heart is.
The most common cause of heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is where stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation and discomfort, just below the breastbone. This can occur if the valve (esophageal sphincter) that separates the esophagus from the stomach becomes weak or relaxes abnormally during the digestive process. Other conditions such as a hiatal hernia, can contribute to heartburn.
Health Concerns of Heartburn
Before you get too worried, occasional heartburn is nothing to worry about. It won’t adversely effect your health. It’s just not pleasant. However, if you get it frequently, it can damage the esophageal lining.
If the cause of your heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and you don’t care for it properly, you can develop:
- A narrowing of the esophagus due to inflammation
- Ulcers near the junction of the stomach and esophagus
- Esophageal adenocarcinoma – a rare form of cancer
- Chronic cough
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Erosion of dental enamel
What should I do about my heartburn?
Here are a few tips to help you alleviate or prevent heartburn if you are prone to it.
- Don’t eat large meals: Try not to overeat. You need to stop when you first feel full. If the stomach is overly full, the acid is more likely to come up into your esophagus and cause heartburn.
- Stay away from certain foods: Foods don’t cause heartburn, but some foods can trigger or aggravate heartburn. So, limit or avoid whatever foods seem to be your trigger. Some foods that commonly cause problems for many people are fatty foods, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, spearmint, caffeine, spicy foods, onions, carbonated beverages, tomato based foods and citrus fruits and juices.
- Avoid smoking: Nicotine can contribute to heartburn by relaxing the valve between the esophagus and stomach, which increases the risk of reflux.
- Don’t lay down after a meal: Laying down to relax or sleep right after eating will trigger or aggravate heartburn by making it easier for the acid to seep into your esophagus. Try to stay upright for a few hours after eating.
If after trying these tips, you still experience discomfort or you continue to have heartburn on a regular basis, it might be time to see your doctor. Don’t let heartburn keep ruining your evenings and your health!