Heartburn is a common digestive complaint which affects an estimated 15 million Americans daily, and 60 million once per month. Relief of moderate heartburn is typically achieved through diet and lifestyle changes, although medication (eg. antacids) is usually necessary if the heartburn is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a digestive problem: it has nothing to do with your heart. It happens when small quantities of stomach acid unintentionally rise up the esophagus (the food canal running from the mouth into the stomach) causing symptoms such as a burning pain in the chest which rises towards the throat. Sufferers might even taste the fluid at the back of the mouth, which is called acid indigestion. Oftentimes the pain and burning sensation is comparatively mild, but occasionally is so severe that individuals believe they’re experiencing a heart attack.

What Are The Causes Of Heartburn?

Generally speaking, the immediate cause of heartburn is that the acidic digestive juices that leave the gut and grow up the esophagus. The acid burns the tissue of the esophagus resulting in pain and inflammation – a condition called esophagitis. Heartburn can also occur in pregnancy once the baby is pressing against the bottom of the diaphragm and squeezing the gut. An occasional episode of acid-regurgitation or indigestion is rather ordinary. But persistent heartburn (eg. Twice per week), is typically a symptom of something more serious. The two most frequent underlying causes of heartburn symptoms are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and hiatal hernia.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

GERD is characterized by a collapse of the muscular valve, also called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is situated at the base of the esophagus. The function of the valve is to keep acid in the stomach and stop it leaking back up the esophagus. When this valve does not work correctly, reflux (leak-back) and heartburn may happen. Factors that lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease include obesity, pregnancy, smoking and, specifically, hiatal hernia.

Hiatal Hernia

Hiatus or hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach herniates (protrudes) upwards to the chest through the hiatus (opening) in the diaphragm normally only inhabited by the esophagus. This puts additional strain on the LES valve preventing it from closing properly. Because of this, stomach acid flows into the esophagus causing heartburn. The root cause of hiatal hernia is unknown. Contributory factors include: pregnancy, obesity, constipation, abdominal muscle strain, and smoking.

Dietary Treatment For Heartburn

In cases of persistent heartburn, dietary improvements aren’t sufficient. So in addition to advocating a digestion-friendly diet, your doctor will probably recommend at least one of the following kinds of medication. Antacids to neutralize the acidity in your stomach; H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors to decrease acid production; or prokinetics to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter and expedite stomach-emptying. However, if heartburn symptoms are mild and occur only from time to time, usually you’ll be advised to make these adjustments to your diet.

If Overweight…

Switch To A Healthy Weight Loss Diet. Obesity, particularly excess fat on the chest and stomach, is a common contributory element to GERD and hiatal hernia, and therefore to heartburn. So if you’re obese (BMI > 30), take steps to normalize your weight and so lower your risk or symptoms of heartburn. Choose a healthy calorie-controlled diet plan and customize it by following the ingestion hints below.

Stop Eating Large Meals

A major meal distends the stomach and causes a rise in the production of stomach acid. These two factors lead to an increased risk of heartburn. So opt for 4-6 small meals or snacks, and allow a maximum of 3 hours between eating. Moreover, select foods that are”easier on the stomach” and much more more easily digested.

Avoid Acidic Food

Reduce your intake of very acidic foods by preventing items such as: berries, tomato-based sauces, citrus fruits, rhubarb, gooseberries, unripe fruit, vinegar and acidic pickles or relishes.

Cut Down On Fatty and Spicy Food

Fried or very fatty foods, such as candy, promote indigestion and must be avoided or consumed sparingly. So go easy on butter, mayo, sausages, salami, pate, meat pies, and full-fat cheese. The same applies to very hot food such as: black pepper, chili peppers, curry, mustard and other spices that are hot, in addition to raw garlic and onions.

Avoid Carbonated Drinks

Fizzy or carbonated soft drinks cause belching and upward pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the probability of heartburn. The best drinks include: water, herbal teas or diluted non-citrus fruit juices. Please also note that some soft drinks (eg. Cocoa, coffee, orange juice) aren’t useful for heartburn because they may over-relax the LES, thus encouraging the backward flow of acid from the stomach.

Eat More Fiber, Especially Soluble Fiber

Constipation may result in additional strain on abdominal muscles and increase the chance of heartburn. To avoid constipation, eat more high-fiber foods such as: oats, apples, pears, dried apricots and veggies. When increasing fiber intake in addition, it is important to boost your water consumption by at least 40 fl oz each day.

Reduce Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol isn’t helpful to heartburn for many reasons. So take steps to lower your intake to a unit each day, or prevent it altogether. Alcohol is also a supply of non-nutritious calories and may lead to overweight.

Other Digestive Tips

For digestive disorders like heartburn, some dietitians and other health experts recommend patients to consume (or cook with) digestion-friendly aromatic herbs such as basil, chamomile, caraway, dill, fennel, rosemary and thyme. They also advise that you finish each meal with a glass of herbal tea (eg. Chamomile, fennel) to decrease acidity and wind.

Lifestyle Improvements

There are lots of lifestyle changes that could help reduce the symptoms of heartburn. One obvious one is to quit smoking, as tobacco smoke increases acidity in the stomach. Other recommended changes include:

Avoid putting extra strain on your abdomen or chest. Wear loose-fitting clothing, and don’t overstretch or lift heavy weights.

Don’t lie down after eating, and try to not eat anything for at least three hours before going to bed. The less there is in your gut when you come to lie down, the lower the chance of heartburn.

To minimize night-time distress, raise the head end of your bed by about 3 inches by using bed-blocks or by putting a solid object under the bed-legs. This helps to stop stomach acid from leaking backwards into the esophagus. Do not use more pillows – you simply wind up getting a stiff neck in addition to heartburn!

Conclusion

Heartburn symptoms can result from certain over-the-counter drugs,pain-killers or anti-inflammatories. So in case you take this sort of medication frequently, check with your doctor or pharmacist which it is safe to continue.