We’ve all had it – that slow, burning feeling that moves from your chest up to your neck and throat. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the contents of your stomach come back up into your esophagus. It’s normal for that to happen occasionally, and your esophagus is designed to keep it under control. But when there’s more reflux than your esophagus can handle, it turns into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and often produces heartburn.
Health experts estimate about twenty percent of people in the U.S. have heartburn once a week. There’s no reason to continue suffering, though. Dr. Marc Bernstein with Mercy Clinic Gastroenterology has nine tips to help you prevent heartburn.
- Cut back on caffeine. It loosens the junction between your stomach and esophagus that keeps acid reflux in check. One cup of coffee a day might be fine, but if you like more than one, try switching to hot herbal tea. Decaf, of course.
- Abstain from alcohol. It also weakens the defense of your esophagus.
- Avoid high fat foods. Butter, cheese, fatty meats, fried foods and desserts can all contribute to acid reflux. Greasy, heavier foods are harder for your stomach to digest, so it empties more slowly and can trigger heartburn.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Portion control is critical for warding off heartburn. Dr. Bernstein recommends five meals a day – that’s eating about once every three hours. Setting your phone alarm as a reminder may be helpful so you don’t miss a meal.
- Toss the tomatoes. Tomatoes have two major types of acids that can lead to heartburn.
- Stay away from peppermint. Peppermint may help with digestive problems like gas, but it makes heartburn worse.
- Keep chocolate at a distance. Chocolate not only contains caffeine, but it also has other stimulants which can cause reflux. Sorry, chocolate lovers.
- Don’t lie down right after you eat. Gravity is your best friend when it comes to fighting heartburn.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra belly fat puts pressure on your stomach, which can cause a backflow of acid.
It is important to note none of these recommendations are absolute. Recording your own experience with common heartburn triggers may allow you to cut back on the foods that bother you most without making drastic diet modifications.
If you’re having heartburn once or twice a week, a chewable or liquid antacid can help relieve your discomfort. If you’re suffering from chronic heartburn, there are several over-the-counter medications that may work for you.
Talk to your Mercy doctor about your history with heartburn so you can develop a care plan that works for you. We’ll get you back to feeling your best instead of feeling the burn.
Marc Bernstein, MD, is a gastroenterologist at Mercy Clinic Hepatology in St. Louis, MO. To schedule an appointment, call 314-251-3380.
Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.