22. How to Take the Heat Out of Heartburn

Ah, another big, wonderful Sunday breakfast! A few cups of coffee with your ham-and-cheese omelet and you’ll lie down for a relaxing afternoon on the couch. Nothing could ruin that perfect scenario, right? Nothing but a painful burning sensation in your chest known only too well as heartburn. (The name is a misnomer since heartburn occurs in the esophagus just behind the heart and in no way involves the heart.)

What causes this irritation? Gastric acids from the stomach splash back up into the lower portion of the esophagus causing pain. The digestive acids don’t harm the stomach thanks to its protective coating, but the esophagus has no such armor so you feel discomfort.

The most common heartburn triggers are:

  1. Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, arthritis medicine, or corticosteroids.

  2. Eating heavy meals, eating too fast, or eating foods like chocolate, garlic, onions, peppermint, tomatoes, or citrus fruits.

  3. Smoking or lying down after eating. Wearing tight clothing.

  4. Drinking coffee (regular or decaffeinated). Drinking alcohol.

  5. Hiatal hernia, a bulging of the upper part of the stomach through the diaphragm.

  6. Being very overweight.

  7. Pregnancy.

  8. Stress. Swallowing too much air.

Treatment consists of avoiding as many contributing factors as possible plus the following:

  1. Sit straight while you eat. Stand up or walk around after you eat.

  2. If heartburn bothers you at night, raise the head of the bed six inches.

  3. Don’t just prop up your head with pillows. This makes the problem worse by putting pressure on your stomach.

  4. Lose weight if you are overweight.

  5. Avoid wearing tight-fitting garments around the abdomen.

  6. Eat small meals. Don’t eat for 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

  7. Don’t smoke. Limit alcohol.

  8. If you do take aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or arthritis medicines, take them with food.

If other treatments fail:

  1. Take antacids. They coat your stomach and neutralize acids. For example, take 1 to 2 tablespoons of a non-absorbable liquid antacid, such as magnesium hydroxide every 2 to 4 hours or ones that come in tablet form, such as Tums.

  2. If antacids don’t bring relief, take an over-the-counter acid controller (brand names Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB). These not only relieve heartburn, but can prevent it. (Note: Read the label before taking an antacid or acid controller. If you have questions, check with your doctor or pharmacist.)

  3. Don’t take baking soda. It may neutralize stomach acid at first, but when its effects wear off, the acid comes back to a greater degree causing severe gastric acid rebound.

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems