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Do You Always Need Medication to Control Heartburn?

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Updated May 15, 2014

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

You have probably seen at least one television ad that depicts heartburn control being achieved only by this or that company's product. You may also have a friend who expounds the wonders of the medication she or he is taking. But is it really true that only by taking medications, such as antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors, can you find relief from heartburn?

It is true that for some people, taking medication is the only way they can get their heartburn symptoms under control. Other people opt for surgery, such as fundoplication surgery. However, there are many people who can control their heartburn successfully by making changes in their daily routines and habits, and by changing what they eat.

Talk to Your Doctor

One of the first steps, and most important, is to consult with your doctor on how to treat your heartburn. He or she can give you tips on controlling your heartburn that will work best for you.

Quick Tips for Preventing Heartburn

Heartburn symptoms can often be relieved with good heartburn treatment, including a few lifestyle changes. Following these suggestions can help you reduce the occurrence of acid reflux symptoms.

Avoiding Foods That Most Often Cause Heartburn

Heartburn can occur for a couple of reasons:

  • When the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) -- the passageway from your esophagus to your stomach -- relaxes inappropriately and food comes back upward
  • When the stomach produces too much acid and this is refluxed into the esophagus

Some of the foods we eat can trigger these responses from the body, and then heartburn happens. Some foods have a tendency of relaxing the LES, and some foods can stimulate stomach acid production. Knowing which foods can do these things is important. Of course everyone is different, so some of these taboo foods may produce no heartburn for you. That's why it would be a good idea to keep a food diary for a week or two to see what foods cause you heartburn, and which do not.

Foods to possibly avoid include:

  • High fat foods
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated and carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomato-based products

Knowing What Foods Are Safe

This is a list of foods that are the least likely to cause heartburn. It should be remembered, as mentioned above, that each person is different. There may be foods in this list that you have found cause heartburn. Keeping a food diary will help you find out what foods are your safe foods.

There are also foods that can be enjoyed in moderation. These are the foods you may be able to eat occasionally without the risk of heartburn.

Generally, safe foods for heartburn sufferers include:

  • Low-fat milk, cheeses, and creams
  • Lean meats
  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Baked instead of fried foods
  • Fresh fruits (not citrus
  • Water

Nighttime Heartburn

Nearly 80% of people who suffer from heartburn will experience heartburn at night. Even if heartburn doesn't occur every night, if you spend every one night with it, that feels like one night too much. There are ways to calm that burn so you can get a good night's sleep. Some of these methods include:

  • Waiting two or three hours after eating before going to bed
  • Eat your larger meal at lunch instead of supper
  • Avoid late night snacking
  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated
  • Lay on your left side
  • Wear loose-fitting pajamas

Heartburn During Pregnancy

Many women will experience heartburn during their pregnancy. For some, it's during their pregnancy that they experience heartburn for the first time. Heartburn can occur for a number of reasons. They include:

  • An increase in hormones during pregnancy can soften the ligaments that help keep the LES closed, allowing for stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus
  • As the baby grows, this can put more pressure on the stomach, which can increase the chances of stomach contents being forced up into the esophagus

There are ways to control heartburn during pregnancy. You should, however, talk to your doctor first about what is best for you and your baby.

Natural Remedies for Heartburn

If lifestyle modifications and dietary changes don't control heartburn enough, many people prefer to use a natural, home remedy to treat their heartburn instead of medications. It is important to remember, however, that there haven't been any clinical trials to support their effects on heartburn in most cases. You should discuss their use with your doctor.

Some of the home remedies are:

Share Your Stories About Living With Chronic Heartburn

Many of us have found ways, other than medication, to get our heartburn under control. Here is your opportunity to share your stories and tips, and to see what others have to say.

There are several areas where you can either contribute tips or read other's personal stories (or both), but a few of them are:

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Heartburn / GERD
  4. Prevention / Treatment
  5. Prevention
  6. Do I Always Need Medication to Control Heartburn?

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