The holidays are over, and the warm, fuzzy feelings that come with them have passed. Although the celebrations – the eating, drinking, and merrymaking – are no more, there is one feeling that may still linger as a result of those indulgences: heartburn. But have no fear; there are several easy fixes to this common post-holiday problem. Read on to learn more about heartburn and its treatments.
Most people will experience some degree of heartburn in their lifetimes. But don’t let the name fool you; heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It is simply a painful burning sensation, caused by a backup (or reflux) of acidic stomach content in the esophagus, just below or behind the breastbone. The acid irritates the esophagus, thus causing the burning sensation. Heartburn is usually an occasional annoyance. However, some people experience frequent, long-lasting heartburn – a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
You can reduce the risk of heartburn by avoiding foods or beverages that often trigger reflux. These include alcohol, spicy foods, citrus fruits/juices, chocolate, and carbonated or caffeinated drinks. Eating smaller meals will also help, as stomach material is more likely to back up in an overly full stomach. Obesity, smoking, and stress are also known to increase the risk of heartburn.
There are also many over-the-counter medications to treat varying degrees of heartburn:
Antacids neutralize stomach acidity and are commonly used to relieve minor symptoms of heartburn, as well as acid indigestion and upset/sour stomach. Brand examples: TUMS, Mylanta, Rolaids, Maalox, Pepto-Bismol, and Alka-Seltzer
H2 blockers (a.k.a. H2-receptor antagonists) are used to treat mild symptoms of heartburn by preventing the chemical histamine2 from signaling the stomach to produce acid. A lower amount of stomach acid reduces the risk of heartburn, GERD, Peptic ulcer disease, and dyspepsia. Brand examples: Pepcid AC and Zantac
Proton pump inhibitors(PPIs) are the most potent blockers of stomach acid production and are used for the long-term treatment of chronic heartburn (caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease), as well as dyspepsia, peptic ulcers, stress gastritis, and more. Brand examples: Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Zurcal, and Aciphex
If your symptoms worsen or do not improve after lifestyle changes or treatment with over-the-counter medication, it is important to contact your healthcare provider. Furthermore, you should see your doctor if you experience any advanced symptoms of GERD, including hoarseness, vomiting, choking and/or trouble swallowing, bleeding, loss of appetite, or weight loss.
To learn more about gastroesophageal reflux disease, click here.