Heartburn is a regular part of many people’s lives and it’s perfectly normal to experience every once and awhile. Once it becomes a part of your daily life—or even weekly—you should discuss with your doctor how to address why it’s happening and learn about some lifestyle changes to help it from recurring. While it may seem easier to take over-the-counter heartburn aids like antacids or acid reducers, those have side effects that can actually be harmful to use long term without doctor supervision. Rather than simply make yourself feel better while you’re experiencing the symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn, you should dig down to the root cause and find solutions to stop it from happening altogether.
Before you figure out how to stop acid reflux and heartburn, it’s important to understand what it is and what causes it. Heartburn and acid reflux are generally defined as a burning sensation in the chest and throat as a result of stomach acid and your stomach contents flowing backward through your digestive system. It comes as a result of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) not functioning properly. When it works correctly, the LES functions as a flap, letting food and drinks down the esophagus and then closing once it has passed. For people experiencing acid reflux, the LES malfunctions and allows stomach acid to flow backward. Acid reflux is a fairly broad term and can describe a range of severity, with the more severe form of it being called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can include more severe symptoms other than heartburn, including coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and regurgitation of food.
One of the easiest places to start if you’re trying to avoid getting heartburn is to take a look at your diet. Not only is it important to watch the foods you eat, but you should also adjust how and when you’re eating. When presented with food choices, you should avoid acidic foods like citrus fruits, in addition to fatty foods, spicy food, and even chewing gum. It’s best to eat several small meals throughout the day instead of focusing on three large meals. Your body can better digest small amounts of food. Plan to have your last meal of the evening more than three hours prior to bedtime, since your body produces the largest amounts of stomach acid within a three-hour window of eating. You should also choose water over other beverages, especially when you’re eating. Carbonated or caffeinated drinks tend to trigger the symptoms of acid reflux.
In addition to adjustments to your diet and eating habits, we recommend making a few lifestyle changes to help minimize the burning sensation that comes along with acid reflux. Being overweight or obese can contribute to acid reflux or GERD, so losing extra weight can be helpful. Weight loss can come as a result of watching your food intake, while physical activity is also recommended to help drop those pounds. A healthy exercise routine will help in multiple ways. Laying down immediately after eating can worsen the symptoms of acid reflux, so choosing to take a walk after a large meal will aid in your digestion as well as help you with weight loss goals.
When you’re looking for lifestyle changes to make, you should also consider dropping your drinking and smoking habits if you have them. Drinking alcohol can increase your stomach acid production and irritate your throat and esophagus, with both of these habits affecting how your lower esophageal sphincter functions. Smoking can also cause your saliva to be less productive at neutralizing your stomach acid and breakdown of the contents of your stomach.
If you’ve been experiencing acid reflux or heartburn, you should start to keep a journal tracking what you’re eating or other triggers you might notice that are tied to the instances of the uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest and throat. Try implementing the suggestions we give above to see if things change. If you continue to experience these symptoms, they worsen, or they become more frequent, you should book an appointment to see one of our doctors at Carolina Digestive Health Associates. If you’re already experiencing frequent or debilitating symptoms, head straight to your doctor for a diagnosis. More serious symptoms including choking while you’re eating, red or black stools, vomiting blood, unexplained weight loss, chest pain, or difficulty swallowing.