If you’ve ever suffered from heartburn, finding out what triggers it is often the key for prevention. In this article, Dr. Ali Ghahary takes a look at the common causes of heartburn – from the foods you eat to the medications you take, and what you can do to stop it in its tracks.
But first, what is heartburn? Well, contrary to popular belief, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart itself. However, the symptoms of heartburn can often mimic that of a heart attack. For example, you may experience a burning sensation in the chest, have trouble swallowing, develop a sore throat, or have a hoarse voice. Heartburn occurs when the esophagus (the tube that connects your stomach and throat) becomes irritated due to acid regurgitation.
While heartburn affects individuals in many different ways, eating large meals or consuming fatty foods are often the two biggest culprits when it comes to the development of heartburn. For example, chowing down on a greasy burger and fries. Other foods known to cause heartburn include certain meats (such as ground beef), grains (such as spaghetti or mac and cheese), desserts (such as cookies, brownies, cakes, donuts and chocolate), snack foods (such as potato chips), salad dressings, and dairy products (such as sour cream, ice cream and cottage cheese.) While healthy, certain fruits and vegetables can also be big problems for heartburn sufferers, especially oranges, grapefruits, lemons, cranberries and tomatoes. Certain beverage like alcohol, soda, coffee and tea can also trigger the regurgitation of stomach acid. Medications such as NSAIDs and antibiotics also commonly result in heartburn, especially if you take them regularly.
If you’re prone to developing heartburn after eating any of the aformentioned foods, Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests making dietary changes in order to help you find relief. Ginger is one of the best-known treatments for gastrointestinal related issues, and it also works well as a natural anti-inflammatory. You can add ginger to your meals, as well as to tea. Things like oatmeal, chicken and poultry (with skin removed), baked or grilled seafood, and greens (like parsley, celery, broccoli and asparagus) are also easier on the stomach and make you less likely to produce as much stomach acid. When it comes to medications, pharmacists and physicians often suggest taking a probiotic or taking your medication with a meal in effort to reduce gastrointestinal upset. To further prevent heartburn, Dr. Ali Ghahary says you should never overeat. Instead of having several large meals throughout the day, choose smaller portions. You also shouldn’t eat before bedtime and give the stomach at least 2 hours to digest any food you have eaten before lying down, this way the food has enough time to pass through the stomach and into the small intestine, as opposed to going back up into your esophagus and causing heartburn.
For those with severe heartburn, or if you are unable to find relief by taking any of the recommended steps above, you may need to take medication. Today, many acid reflux/heartburn medications can be found at your local pharmacy. Things like Maalox and Zantac, for example. However, for some individuals these medications may not be strong enough. If that is the case, you should speak to your family physician, as he or she may need to write you a prescription. There are many different medications used to treat heartburn, it’s simply a matter of finding what works best for you.