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Snuffing Out Heartburn Forever!
It’s not as easy as putting out a fire, but it’s possible.
For most people, heartburn is caused by a combination of factors, many of which are within your direct control. The key to eliminating heartburn forever is to modify as many of these factors as possible.
A person interested in a permanent cure for heartburn probably deals with the problem on a regular basis. The following tips apply to true gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). There are other causes of chest discomfort that sometimes mimic GERD, including heart disease, stomach ulcers, stomach cancer, costochondritis, and even asthma. If you have regular chest discomfort, see your doctor to make sure the diagnosis is correct.
When it comes to GERD, factors that cause symptomatic heartburn include smoking, being overweight, going to bed after eating, taking certain medications, overeating, exercising after eating, drinking alcohol, and eating certain foods. Some of these may take months to resolve. Others can change overnight.
Many patients do not realize that smoking, whether in the form of smoking or chewing, worsens heartburn. Quitting is the best option, but even fighting back can make a difference. It may also depend on when you smoke: a cigarette after lunch may not be enough to trigger symptoms. Half a dozen will come in handy after a dinner of tacos and beer. I have had patients whose heartburn completely disappeared after quitting smoking.
Stopping certain medications is another possible way to get rid of heartburn overnight. The most common culprits are anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and various prescription forms. Even Celebrex, the cox-2 inhibitor least likely to cause stomach irritation, sometimes contributes to acid reflux symptoms. On the other hand, some patients who have stomach symptoms from ibuprofen improve their reflux when their doctor switches them to Celebrex. Also, many patients do not know that Tylenol is different from aspirin or ibuprofen. Tylenol is effective for mild to moderate pain and does not contribute to acid reflux.
Changing your diet is another way to get rid of heartburn. Avoid spicy foods, onions, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, tangerines), coffee (both regular and decaffeinated), soda, mints, fatty foods, chocolate, and the most common culprit: tomato-based products. You can live without pizza, tacos, spaghetti, French fries and greasy hamburgers. The pioneers did it – you can do it too.
All forms of alcohol are potential stomach irritants and should be avoided, although sometimes it’s a matter of quantity. A small glass of wine after dinner may not cause symptoms, while a six-pack of beer with a smoky game of poker may have a good effect.
Reflux is a matter of both gravity and pressure. Whenever there is more pressure on the abdomen, it is easier for the acid content to go up into the esophagus. Overeating is like filling a water balloon too tightly – the contents are under pressure and shoot upwards much more easily than from a half-filled balloon or stomach. Excess weight pressing on the stomach does much the same as a tight belt. Bending over or exercising hard, especially after eating, causes the same problem. If pregnancy is the problem, childbirth is the solution.
Gravity works in your favor as long as you’re standing up straight, but if you lie down after eating, your stomach contents will flow upwards. Some patients do well to raise the head of the bed. This works best if you raise the entire head of the bed, not just using extra pillows, which can end up crushing the abdomen, increasing the pressure. Losing weight will help over time, but eating less will help now.
Changing these behaviors is the first step toward banishing heartburn for good. If these suggestions are ineffective, it’s time to discuss medication with your doctor.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD
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