Health Team

Diet, weight management can ease heart burn symptoms

Posted March 22

A lot of people complain about heart burn – especially after a big family meal.

For many people, though, it's more than minor discomfort: heart burn can significantly reduce quality of life.

Most people call it heart burn, but doctors call it Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. The condition can cause damage to the esophagus, and it can even increase the risk of cancer if it's ignored and untreated.

A common cause is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia where the upper part of the stomach moves above the diaphragm.

There is a valve separating the esophagus from the stomach, and if this does not function properly, acid can flow back up the esophagus.

To find relief from heart burn a good first step is to eat smaller, more frequent meals. Large amounts of food put more pressure on the muscle that holds stomach contents back from the esophagus. It also helps to eat more slowly.

Also, avoid late night eating. A meal or snack within three hours of lying down can worsen reflux causing that "heart burn" feeling.

Exercise is fine but not right after meals. The stomach needs time to empty out – just a few hours will do.

Sleeping on a slight incline can also be effective. Find a wedge-shaped cushion – available from medical supply companies – or some home goods stores. Just propping up the head and shoulders with common pillows won't be enough.

Keep a food diary to help identify foods that lead to heart burn. Common offenders are foods high in fat, spicy foods, tomatoes, garlic, dairy, coffee or tea, soda, peppermint and chocolate. Carbonated drinks cause belching, which is another cause of reflux.

Chewing sugarless gum after a meal might also help ease the pain of heart burn. It promotes the production of saliva, which helps neutralize acid and it soothes the esophagus and washes acid back down to the stomach. Just make sure the gum is not peppermint flavored.

Even with proper diet, though, reflux might be a side effect of current prescriptions.

Lastly, being overweight could also cause heart burn. Being overweight puts more pressure on the stomach and pushes stomach contents into the esophagus.


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