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Alcohol causes me heartburn. Why?

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Updated July 06, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Two pints of beer
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Question: Alcohol causes me heartburn. Why?

Answer:

You come home from a stressful day at work, and have a glass of wine to help you unwind. Unfortunately, a few minutes later you are suffering from a bout of heartburn. Why?

Alcohol can have several unpleasant affects on heartburn sufferers. These include:

  • Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid
  • Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus
  • When the LES relaxes, it causes swallowing contractions to become erratic
  • Alcohol makes the esophagus more sensitive to stomach acid
So, maybe that glass of wine after work isn't such a good idea after all. You may want to think of other ways to relax. You could take a leisurely walk in the park. You could sit in a quiet room, listening to a recording of the surf at a beach. There are other relaxation methods you could use instead of drinking an alcoholic beverage.

But what if you still want to have an occasional drink? There are a few things you can do to minimize alcohol's affect on your body:

  • Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda
  • Drink moderate amounts -- 1 to 2 mixed drinks, 12 to 16 ounces of wine, or 2 to 3 beers
  • When having wine, drink white wine instead of red
  • Avoid lying down after drinking -- sitting up will minimize reflux
  • Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine
  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn, and avoid them as much as possible
You may be able to enjoy alcoholic beverages if consumed in moderation. But if alcohol causes repeated heartburn, you may want to consider alternatives to alcohol. If you experience persistent or severe pain, or if you think you might have an addiction to alcohol, don't hesitate to consult your doctor.

Sources:

Carol Ann Rinzler, Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004

Anil Minocha, M.D., Christine Adamec. How To Stop Heartburn - Simple Ways to Heal Heartburn and Acid Reflux. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2001.

 

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