Everyone likes to feel the warm, cozy glow of the holidays, unless, of course, it’s heart burn. This common condition can give a new meaning to “fire in the belly,” and can even be dangerous if not managed well. Doing so can be more difficult during the holidays, with the temptation of large meals and acidic foods.
“It is important to prevent and manage heartburn. For one, it’s uncomfortable, and cuts into a good quality of life. Over time, though, it can lead to conditions that cause problems in your stomach and esophagus – conditions such as ulcers or cancer,” said Adam Conn, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgeon with Porter Physician Group who often treats patients battling severe cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn.
Heartburn happens when acid in the stomach – which helps digest food – splashes up and out of the stomach, sometimes as far as into the esophagus (GERD). This can happen for many reasons, including a hernia of the flap that is supposed to keep acid down. Other risk factors for heartburn include drinking alcohol, being overweight, being pregnant, smoking, or having a condition call scleroderma. Some medications can also make heartburn worse, including ibuprofen, certain medicines for depression or anxiety, and some heart disease medicines. “Don’t ever stop taking a medication due to heartburn, however, unless your doctor instructs you to do so, Dr. Conn said.
“Most people can manage their heartburn effectively by watching how and what they eat, or taking medications to help reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces,” Dr. Conn said. “In some cases, surgery is necessary, but the important thing to know is that you should always have your heartburn symptoms addressed by your doctor before acid erosion becomes a serious problem.” In some cases, Dr. Conn said, GERD can cause a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, when the cells of the esophagus lining have been exposed to acid so frequently that they actually begin to change and become pre-cancerous.
To prevent and manage heartburn at the holidays, Dr. Conn offers 10 simple tips (outside of medications and surgery):
- Don’t’ go to bed on a full stomach. Leave yourself plenty of time to digest food – at least 2-3 hours before lying down. Perhaps take a walk after a large meal.
- Avoid overeating. Decrease portion sizes. To make it simple, stop eating as soon as you feel satisfied; don’t keep eating until you are full or uncomfortable. During buffets or pot-luck style meals, take a tiny sampling of the portions before you – about a tablespoon or less of each. When snacking, remove items from the bag and place a small portion in a bowl, plate or napkin instead of eating out of the bag.
- Eat slowly. Enjoy conversation at mealtimes, and drink water with meals instead of soda or alcohol.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing, and don’t eat until you are uncomfortably full.
- Avoid heartburn triggers: onions, peppermint, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, citrus fruits/juices, and tomatoes.
- Consider keeping a food diary.
- Shed some pounds.
- Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Raise the head of your bed on 6-inch blocks.
If you have experienced heartburn, talk to your doctor. If you need a family doctor, visit porterphysiciangroup.com or call 1-844-PPG-DOCS to find a doctor near you.