Holidays And Heartburn
The first step to prevent or treat heartburn is to understand what it is. While most people know that heartburn and overeating or overdrinking go hand and hand, they do not know why. To find out, it is necessary to go over some related anatomy and symptoms.
Heartburn Related Anatomy
The esophagus is a long hollow tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a band of muscle that is found at the bottom of the esophagus. When food is chewed and then swallowed, the following occurs:
- The food travels down the esophagus until it reaches the LES
- The LES relaxes and widens so the food can pass into the stomach
- The LES contracts and tightens so the food and stomach contents can not enter the esophagus
Patients who suffer from heartburn do so because their LES does not contract properly and allows stomach acid to enter the esophagus. When this happens, a burning pain is felt in the chest. Accompanying this pain may be any or any combination of the following symptoms:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Problems with swallowing
- A sore throat
- An acidic taste in the throat
Heartburn and its accompanying symptoms may be extremely uncomfortable for many patients. Luckily, there are many easy and effective preventative and treatment measures.
Rather than having a "DO NOT EAT THESE FOODS and DO NOT DRINK THESE DRINKS!" approach to preventing heartburn, patients are encouraged to increase their knowledge and understanding of what foods and drinks may cause heartburn and then curb their holiday eating patterns to avoid overindulgence. The three most common culprits of heartburn are the following:
- Caffeinated beverages and acidic juices - Including coffee, tea, soda, and orange and grapefruit juice
- Alcoholic beverages - Including beer, wine, and liquor
- Fatty foods - Including foods that are fried or coated in oil
Foods that are spicy may trigger heartburn for some patients. If one of the above-mentioned foods or drinks triggers heartburn, patients should moderate their intake of it or substitute it with a great tasting less acidic option. Also, patients should try to avoid smoking and sleeping with their head at the same level as their feet. Many patients are able to prevent heartburn by simply raising the head of their bed either mechanically or by placing a few books under the legs of the bed frame.
Should patients experience heartburn this holiday season, there are many medications that can be used to treat it. They typically fall into the following three categories:
- Anti-acids - Medications that neutralize stomach acid
- H-2 blockers - Medications that reduce acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors - Medications that block acid production
Because there are many brands associated with these medications and they come in both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription forms, it is always a good idea for patients to discuss their symptoms with a physician before choosing a medication.
When to Seek a Professional Opinion
If heartburn and its accompanying symptoms can not be prevented or controlled with the advice presented in this article, patients should make an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist.