Heartburn is actually a symptom of another condition and not a disease itself. The disease that causes heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is the more-serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), a common condition where contents of the stomach—digestive juices, or acids—rise up into the esophagus due the opening or incomplete closure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is the muscle that keeps the contents of the stomach out of the esophagus and airway. When GER persists and occurs more than twice a week, it is considered GERD.
Over-the-counter antacids and prescription medications are the most common treatments for GERD. Regardless of how bad your GERD symptoms are, the successful management of heartburn requires some changes in lifestyle. Here are 7 simple things you can do to reduce heartburn.
Nicotine may worsen GERD symptoms by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, which causes stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. Smoking also causes bile salts to migrate from the small intestine into the stomach and reduces the amount of saliva you produce. (Saliva helps flush stomach acid out of the esophagus and contains a natural acid-fighter, bicarbonate.)
Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol is a bad idea for most people with GERD, because like smoking, alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which lets stomach acid creep into the esophagus. Studies suggest that the more alcohol you consumer the more likely you are to experience worse heartburn.
Eat right: Small meals and avoid certain foods
Meals are often a trigger for GERD symptoms. In fact, a very full stomach can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, pushing stomach acids back up into the esophagus. By eating several small meals throughout the day rather than the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can reduce heartburn.
Avoid certain foods that are known to worsen GERD: chocolate, nuts, spicy foods, fatty red meat, french fries, citrus fruits, raw onions, tomatoes, butter, oil, peppermint, and caffeinated beverages including soda, tea, and coffee.
Excess weight can contribute to heartburn and acid reflux. Obese people are nearly three times more likely than people of normal weight to have heartburn and acid reflux. Experts aren’t exactly sure why, but weight loss is an important component in combating GERD.
Don't wear tight clothing
Clothing that's a tight fit around the midsection can push against your stomach and force acid into the esophagus. Skip tight belts, hosiery, and undergarments that may be too tight.
Keep Your Head Up!
Avoid eating before bedtime and elevate your head six to eight inches while you are asleep. This can be done by raising the end of your bed with blocks or a foam wedge; research shows that raising the head of the bed helps stomach acid drain from the esophagus more quickly.
How you eat can be as important as what you eat. To avoid GERD, eat small meals, eat slowly, and avoid eating before bed. A low-fat, high-fiber diet that's heavy on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats is optimal.
If you have GERD, avoid high-fat food, tomatoes and heavy sauces, fatty meats, butter, chocolate, certain nuts, and caffeinated beverages.