Simple ways to manage heartburn

Do you often struggle with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn? No matter what you call it, it all comes down to the same uncomfortable symptoms: belching, regurgitation, indigestion, nausea – even chest pain.

You may find it embarrassing or frustrating to talk about your heartburn symptoms, but you’re far from being alone in your discomfort. It’s estimated that 14 to 21 per cent of American adults are affected by heartburn and together they spend $14 billion annually to treat it.

If it is more than occasional heartburn – your GERD symptoms can be serious. The acid and digestive enzymes from the stomach that back up, or reflux, into the esophagus can damage the tissues in the esophagus and in the adjacent organs such as the mouth, throat, voice box and lungs. Left untreated, heartburn can lead to complications – esophageal ulcers, esophageal strictures and esophageal cancer.

If you have symptoms of heartburn, it’s important to learn everything you can now – so you can partner with your doctor effectively, ask the right questions and understand the answers.

Can drinking milk help my heartburn?

You may have heard that drinking a glass of milk can relieve heartburn. While it’s true that milk can temporarily buffer stomach acid, nutrients in milk, particularly fat, will stimulate the stomach to produce more acid. Even though milk might not be a great heartburn remedy, it’s a rich source of bone-building calcium. Try fat-free skim milk and don’t overdo it. Drink no more than eight ounces of skim milk at a time – as a snack in between meals. Overfilling the stomach may increase heartburn.

Is chewing gum an effective way to get heartburn relief?

It may sound strange, but gum stimulates the production of saliva, which is an acid buffer. Plus, chewing gum makes you swallow more often, which pushes those nasty acids back out of your esophagus. When you pick a pack of gum, just make sure it’s sugar-free so you also protect your teeth.

A few simple strategies can help soothe the burn of heartburn:

  • Watch what you eat. Avoid specific foods that trigger your heartburn, but also watch out for peppermint, caffeine, sodas, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, onions, and high-fat foods. Eat more fiber to keep your digestive tract moving and healthy. Also reduce your portion sizes. Try eating five or six small meals a day, rather than three big ones. Eating too much at once is a big heartburn trigger.
  • Watch when you eat. Push away the plate at least two or three hours before bedtime so your stomach has a chance to empty before you lie down.
  • Watch how you eat. Eat slowly, taking smaller bites.
  • Lose weight. Excess abdominal fat can press against the stomach, forcing acids up into the esophagus. Follow a diet and exercise program to shed extra pounds.
  • Keep a diary. Write down what you’ve eaten and when your heartburn symptoms occur so you can pinpoint which foods are your triggers and avoid them.
  • Toss the cigarettes. Smoking can reduce the effectiveness of the muscle that keeps acids in the stomach. For this, and so many other health reasons, it’s always the perfect time to quit.
  • Loosen your belt. Ditch the skin-tight jeans. Tight clothes put added pressure on the abdomen.
  • Tilt up. Put wood blocks under your bed to raise the head about six inches. Don’t bother raising your pillows, though – it’s not effective for heartburn.
  • Work it out. Exercise may protect against the acid reflux that leads to heartburn.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on August 22, 2015.


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