This blog is part of a series of blog posts designed to serve as a quick reference guide. Each will focus on a sudden injury or illness and is designed to help you make an informed decision on a plan of action when the unexpected happens.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It results in a burning sensation in your upper belly, below your breastbone, or in your throat. It often follows the occurrence of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid moves up into the esophagus. Heartburn is often more bothersome during the holiday season due to changes in diet and activity level. Sometimes, it even mimics the symptoms of a heart attack.
Why do I get heartburn?
A muscle known as the lower esophagus sphincter sits between the esophagus and the stomach. If it fails to close completely or opens too often, the acid produced by the stomach can move up into the esophagus. As we age, this muscle gradually relaxes, giving stomach acid easier access to the esophagus. Heartburn is also more common in pregnancy due to hormonal and physical changes. Increases in progesterone levels, which relax the muscles of the uterus, also relax the lower esophagus sphincter. Later in pregnancy, the growing baby crowds the abdominal cavity, pushing stomach acid back into the esophagus.
What causes heartburn?
The following foods and drinks are more likely to cause heartburn because they slow down digestion and/or can irritate the stomach.
- Fatty and fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Tomato products such as ketchup, tomato sauce, and salsa
- Carbonated drinks
Heartburn is also often caused by eating too much. A full stomach increases internal pressure inside the stomach, forcing stomach acid upward. Extra pounds around your waistline add to this internal pressure. Lying down with a full stomach further exacerbates the problem, tilting the stomach and causing stomach acid to spill into the esophagus. A large holiday dinner of rich fatty foods and alcohol and kicking back to watch the football game afterwards can easily lead to heartburn.
What can I do to prevent heartburn?
- Eat smaller meals and eat more slowly.
- Avoid eating in the four hours before bed.
- Take a walk after dinner. Not only does it keep you off the couch, but it also helps your stomach digest.
- Avoid tight pants. When your stomach is constricted, heartburn is more likely.
How can I treat heartburn?
Over-the-counter or prescription medicines can effectively treat heartburn. There’s nothing wrong with treating it more aggressively during the holiday season, when large, heavy meals, rich desserts, and increased alcohol intake are common. For best results, take the medication before heartburn starts -before you sit down to enjoy a large meal. Here are some options to try:
- Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox work to neutralize stomach acid.
- Acid blockers like Pepcid AC, Prilosec OTC, Tagamet HB, and Zantac 75 reduce the production of stomach acid.
- If your heartburn isn’t relieved by these medications or if you use them for more than two weeks, prescription medications that contain higher doses of acid blockers may be necessary.
Integrity Urgent Care wishes you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you need us, we’re here for you! We will be closed Christmas Day, but will be open from 8-4 on Christmas Eve. We are also open 8-4 on New Year’s Eve and open 8-8 on New Year’s Day. Click here to find an urgent care location near you.
Sources: https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/tackling-holiday-heartburn#2, https://www.epainassist.com/chest-pain/esophagus/how-to-avoid-acid-reflux-during-holiday, https://www.epainassist.com/abdominal-pain/home-remedies-for-acid-reflux-during-pregnancy, https://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/digestive/difference-between-heartburn-and-acid-reflux1.htm, https://www.babycenter.com/0_heartburn-during-pregnancy-why-it-happens-and-how-to-get-rel_242.bc