Heartburn or acid reflux symptoms include chronic cough, chest pain and burning. Knowing your triggers, such as certain foods, medications, obesity, or even stress, can help prevent heartburn. Heartburn treatment may include medications, home remedies, or diet changes.
The specific triggers for heartburn differ from person to person. Marinara sauce may always spell trouble for you, but your spouse may lick the plate clean and sit back with a satisfied belly and a smile.
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are like those of a heart attack or heart disease.
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus — the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It’s caused by stomach acid. This leads to a burning discomfort in your upper belly or below your breastbone.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn symptoms can start because of a problem with a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It’s located where the esophagus meets the stomach — below the rib cage and slightly left of center. Normally, with the help of gravity, the LES keeps stomach acid right where it should be — in your stomach. When it’s working right, the LES opens to allow food into your stomach or to let you belch, then closes again. But if the LES opens too often or doesn’t close tightly enough, stomach acid can seep into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation.
If your LES doesn’t tighten as it should, there are often two things that contribute to the problem. One is overeating, which puts too much food in your stomach. Another is too much pressure on your stomach, often due to obesity, pregnancy, or constipation.
What can lead to heartburn may surprise you. Stay away from foods you know will give you heartburn. It’s not just about the food you eat. How and when you exercise and what you take to relieve your aches and pains may also cause that burning feeling. The key to taming the flame is to understand what triggers your own personal symptoms.
Heartburn triggers: Heartburn and diet
Fatty foods are big no-no’s if you suffer from heartburn. High-fat foods sit around in your belly longer. This makes your stomach produce more acid, irritating your digestive system. And fatty and greasy foods lead to a lazy, relaxed LES. So not only do you have more irritating stomach acids, you’re more likely to have the contents splash back up your throat resulting in heartburn pain.
Several foods and drinks can cause the LES to relax. Food and drinks that commonly trigger heartburn include:
- alcohol, particularly red wine
- black pepper, garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods
- citrus fruits and products, such as lemons, oranges, and orange juice
- coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea and soda
However, unless these foods are causing you heartburn you don’t have to avoid them. To prevent heartburn after meals:
- Don’t overeat. Eat five or six small meals each day, instead of several large meals.
- Don’t eat before bedtime. Allow 2 hours to digest your food before lying down. This allows time for the food to pass out of the stomach and into the small intestine, rather than having it back up into the esophagus. Lying down makes digestion difficult and makes heartburn more likely.
Exercising and Heartburn
Crunches and ab work can trigger heartburn. Body positions that involve bending over increase pressure on the abdomen, thrusting stomach acids back up into the esophagus. So, you feel the burn — but not the type you’d expect from going to the gym. Keep in mind that leg lifts also work the abdominal muscles and may aggravate heartburn symptoms too.
Activities such as headstands and yoga moves like downward dog can reverse the natural flow of stomach contents and may trigger heartburn. Jarring exercises, such as jogging or aerobics, can slosh stomach contents around and upward if you have a weak LES.
Heartburn is no reason not to exercise. In fact, weight loss from exercise can help with heartburn. But never exercise on a full stomach. Doing so increases abdominal pressure, which makes heartburn more likely. Food takes several hours to digest so it really is a matter of what works for you. Most experts recommend waiting about two hours after eating before working out.
Heartburn triggers: Heartburn and medications
Many different medications can trigger heartburn or make heartburn worse. An aspirin here or there is not likely to lead to that fiery feeling. But regular use of aspirin or a popular class of painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may irritate the esophagus. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and prescription Cox-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex. These drugs are often used to treat arthritis.
Several different types of blood pressure medicines can also cause heartburn. Many blood pressure and heart disease medicines, including calcium channel blockers and nitrates, relax the LES muscle, making it easy for your stomach acids to retreat backward.
Tracking heartburn triggers
Heartburn can limit your menu choices, interrupt your sleep, and interfere with your daily activities. Keeping tabs on what you eat and when you eat will help your doctor determine what’s causing your symptoms. Then together, you can figure out how to prevent them. You can track heartburn triggers by keeping a heartburn diary. Make sure you include notes about portion size and if you have pain after eating a certain food.
Understanding your heartburn triggers and learning how to avoid them can help you avoid the discomfort of heartburn. An episode of heartburn every now and then is usually nothing to worry about. But call the doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates if you have heartburn frequently of if severe heartburn interferes with your daily activities. You may need further evaluation of your heartburn or a medication to help prevent it.
Do you suspect you might have Heartburn? Call the doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology today! 908-483-4000.