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Heartburn: When Your Food Fights Back

Heartburn, often described as a burning chest pain that begins behind the breast bone and moves upward to the neck and throat, is caused by gastric acid flowing from the stomach into the esophagus. Lying down or bending over after eating can also result in heartburn. It can last as long as two hours and is often worse after eating.

To get relief from heartburn, or help prevent it altogether, try the following tips:

  • Don't go to bed with a full stomach. Eat meals at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down -- this will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and acid levels a chance to decrease before you lay down.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. Tight waistbands put pressure on your stomach, and can trigger heartburn or make it worse.

  • Don't overeat. Decrease the size of portions at meal times or try eating 4 to 5 small meals instead of 3 large ones.

  • Eat slowly. Take time to eat -- don't rush. Try putting your fork down between bites.

  • Avoid heartburn triggers. Stay away from foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn symptoms (for example, onions, peppermint, chocolate, caffeinated beverages such as coffee, citrus fruits or juices, tomatoes, or high-fat foods).

  • Shed some pounds. If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve heartburn symptoms.

  • Stop smoking. Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to enter the esophagus.

  • Avoid alcohol. If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, meditation, stretching, or deep breathing instead of alcohol.

  • Don’t workout on a full stomach. Wait for at least two hours after a big meal to exercise, and be sure to drink plenty of water. It helps aid digestion, and can keep heartburn at bay.

  • Keep a diary or heartburn log. Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents.

Heartburn can come on suddenly, or be a regular occurrence for those suffering from Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a gastric disorder that affects over 7 million Americans. If you have these symptoms more than twice a week, consult your doctor, as you may need medical monitoring and prescription medication.

This article first appeared in the August 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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