According to WebMD, heartburn affects more than 20% of Americans at least once a week. Poor diet choices, stress, anxiety, obesity and certain types of medications can trigger a burning agony that may make it difficult to function at your best. Some symptoms may be mild enough early on that you don’t even realize you’re suffering from heartburn, but ignoring them could lead to further complications.
Heartburn or acid indigestion creates a burning sensation in your stomach and mid-chest area that leads to dry cough, asthma-like symptoms and difficulty swallowing. These symptoms are often a result of improper closing and opening of the lower esophageal sphincter drawing the contents of the stomach into the esophagus and burning the esophageal tissue. Combined with the acids the stomach uses to break down and digest food, these acids can be tasted in the throat and on the back of the tongue. This uncomfortable feeling is called acid reflux, and it may be an early symptom of a more serious digestive disorder.
Some heartburn symptoms may be so powerful, you feel as if you’re having a heart attack. Heart attack pain will also be accompanied by shortness of breath, heart palpitations and sweatiness. Talking to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing can help rule out possibility of heart-related illness.
Experiencing occasional acid reflux is normal for everyone, but if you have symptoms more than twice a week, you may be suffering from Gastroesophagel Reflux Disease (GERD.)
For some people, doctors don’t quite understand why they develop GERD. Many infants experience GER, including frequent spitting up and vomiting, but outgrow regular symptoms as they develop in their first year. Development of heartburn or GERD could also be the result of an undetected hiatal hernia, which effects the muscle wall separating the stomach and the chest.
People diagnosed with obesity may also experience symptoms heartburn and acid reflux, which could lead to GERD if not properly detected and treated. Many of these symptoms are brought on by improper diet choices, as well as physical and emotional stress.
Other factors that may contribute to development heartburn may include pregnancy, cigarette smoking, clothing that fits too tightly around the stomach area and eating certain types of food.
Foods that could trigger heartburn include onions and garlic, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, caffeine, carbonated soda beverages and fried foods high in fat. Spicy food can also instigate heartburn, as the body has difficulty digesting it.
Keeping a food diary can help you detect the triggers for your heartburn and begin planning healthier dietary choices to reduce the amount of heartburn you experience. In your food diary, along with the types of foods you eat, note the time you ate as well as any symptoms that occurred after eating. When we experience heartburn discomfort, we often tend to lie down to alleviate the symptoms, but this can actually worsen them, which you may discover in your food diary. Experts say avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime. Refrain from lying down or bending over after eating, as well, as this can interfere with digestion.
There are a number of safe foods you can eat that will help you avoid heartburn symptoms. Apples and bananas are two fruits with little potential for causing heartburn, which lends back to that old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. Some vegetables, as mentioned above, can cause heartburn and acid reflux, but potatoes, carrots, broccoli, peas, cabbage and green beans all tend to be safe choices. If you do tend to experience gas and bloating from broccoli and cabbage, avoid them in order to cut down risk of heartburn.
When choosing meat and dairy, you need to be careful that the cuts of meat you eat are lean and skinless. High fat meat cuts can trigger your symptoms, so be sure to opt for fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt. Non-fat dairy products, such as a glass of warm milk, has actually been known to soothe symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, but you need to make sure you’re reaching for skim milk.
Whole grain foods can actually help aid and improve digestion, which will limit your experience with heartburn. Multi-grain breads and whole grain cereals are a great choice, as they not only aid in digestion, but tend to make you feel fuller so you’re less likely to overeat.
Even with diet changes, you may still experience heartburn symptoms. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about medicinal treatment. There are a number of prescription treatments designed to alleviate symptoms.
Proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid, Prilosec and Aciphex, for example, are designed to block acid production in the stomach and protect your esophagus from further acid burn and damage. As more people are diagnosed with heartburn and GERD, medications like PPIs like Prilosec are now available over the counter and without prescription.
H2 blockers like Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac are slightly less powerful than PPIs, so they are a good remedy for mild symptoms. Like many PPIs, a lot of H2 blockers are now available over-the-counter.
Antacids like Tums and Rolaids are great for on-the-spot treatment of occasional heartburn and indigestion, but aren’t designed for long-term use.
If you are experiencing frequent heartburn, and antacids or over-the-counter treatments are no longer helping relieve your symptoms, talk to your doctor. You may have GERD, which can lead to dangerous long term conditions such as esophageal cancer, if left untreated.
Taking control of your heartburn and acid reflux symptoms may be as easy as losing weight, quitting smoking, eating smaller meals and taking a prescribed medication. Simple lifestyle changes alone may be enough to get your body and its digestive system back on track. Combining your personal efforts with a prescribed or over-the-counter medication can relieve your symptoms during the process, making it easier to achieve permanent relief.
One thing to keep in mind if you are using a medication to help control your symptoms is to continue eating carefully. Just because the medication alleviates your symptoms, your body may still have difficulty with the digestion process in the long run. Stopping your medication and returning to your old eating habits will cause your symptoms to recur, putting you back in the same, uncomfortable position you were in before.