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10 Things to Stop Doing If You Suffer From Heartburn

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Updated March 25, 2014

When you suffer from chronic heartburn, this condition can affect your entire life. It may be necessary to stop eating some of your favorite foods. The heartburn may interfere with your sleep. It may even interfere with your availability to work well.

Whether you were diagnosed with GERD, a hiatal hernia, a peptic ulcer, or some other condition that may cause the heartburn, you have a lot working against you. You don't want your lifestyle or dietary habits adding to this.

Even when you and doctor decide on for your GERD treatment, hiatal hernia treatment, or peptic ulcer treatment, it's also important to know what NOT to do as it is to know what to do. The following are 10 things you may be doing and should stop if you don't want to suffer from a bout of heartburn.

10 Things to Stop Doing If You Suffer From Heartburn

1. Don't Overeat

Large meals expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES - the valve between your esophagus and your stomach), which can lead to heartburn. Try these tips:

  • Eat 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and will also help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.

  • Three smaller meals and three snacks can also help.

2. Don't Eat Too Quickly

When we eat too fast, it is harder for our digestive system to perform the way it should. We could end up suffering from poor digestion and increases your chances of experiencing heartburn.

Some way to help you slow down while eating:

  • Put your fork or spoon down between bites
  • Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing
  • Chew 20 times or count to 20 before the next bite
  • Take smaller bites

3. Don't Eat the Foods That Can Trigger Your Heartburn

There are a couple reasons why some foods cause heartburn: 1) When the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't; or (2) when the stomach produces too much acid.

When the LES is the culprit, food and stomach acid come back up into your esophagus. Some of the foods that can relax the LES include:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Creamy sauces
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g., soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)

Foods that may stimulate acid production and increase heartburn include:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato-based products

4. Don't Go Out To Eat Unprepared

Knowing what is safe for you to eat and what you need to avoid is as important for eating out in restaurants as it is for eating at home. You need to know what to ask for and what you should avoid. When you ask how the food is prepared, avoid certain beverages, and watch portion sizes, you can prevent the heartburn.

What you should look for and ask for when in a restaurant:

  • White meat
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole grain bread
  • Grilled foods
  • Broth-based soups
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Low-fat or no-fat salad dressings
  • Lighter desserts, such as angel food cake

Dining at Chinese, Mexican, or Italian restaurants may be more difficult, since food at these restaurants may contain more ingredients that can trigger your heartburn. It is possible to enjoy dining there if you know what to avoid. This information and more is included in this article on eating out without heartburn.

5. Don't Go To Bed Too Soon After Eating

Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food. Try these tips:

  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed
  • Avoid late night snacking
  • If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of supper

6. Don't Lay Flat When You Sleep

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways:
  • You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy and securely under the legs at the head of your bed
  • You can use wedge-shaped pillow under your head and shoulders

7. Don't Smoke

If you smoke, you should consider quitting. Smoking can cause many health problems, and heartburn is one of them. This is especially true of those persons with GERD. Some of the ways smoking can increase the odds of suffering from heartburn include:

  • Reduced Saliva Production
    Saliva is alkaline, so it can help neutralize stomach acid. Saliva can also relieve heartburn by bathing the esophagus and lessening the effects of acid refluxed into the esophagus by washing it back down to the stomach.

  • Changes in Stomach Acid
    Smoking can increase the production of stomach acid. It may also promote the movement of bile salts from the intestine to the stomach, which makes the stomach acids more harmful.

  • Impairs the Functioning of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter
    Smoking can weaken and relax the LES, which is a valve at the junction between esophagus and stomach. If the LES isn't working properly or relaxes inappropriately, stomach contents can reflux back up into the esophagus.

  • Damage to the Esophagus
    Smoking may directly injure the esophagus, making it even more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux.

8. Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces, and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If you do want to have some alcohol during your festivities, try the following tips:

  • Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda.

  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 or 2 mixed drinks, no more than 16 ounces of wine, or and no more than 3 beers.

  • Drink white wine instead of red wine.

  • Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.

  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn, and avoid them as much as possible.

9. Don't Wear Clothes That Are Too Tight

Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen, such as tight belts and waistbands, can squeeze the stomach, and force food up against the LES. This can cause stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.

10. Don't Get Too Stressed

Stress hasn't been shown to actually cause heartburn. It can, however, lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. During stressful times, routines are disrupted and you may not follow your normal routines in regards to meals, exercise and medication. Since your stress may indirectly lead to heartburn, it is important to find ways to alleviate the stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely. You can try these relaxation tips.

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Sources:

Carol Ann Rinzler; Ken DeVault, MD, First. Heartburn & Reflux For Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004. 163-176. Print.

"http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd">Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

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