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How to Get Heartburn Relief

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Updated January 23, 2013

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

If you experience heartburn because of having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a hiatal hernia, a peptic ulcer, or some other digestive disorder, finding heartburn relief is important.

Before starting any treatment or remedy for heartburn, you should talk to your doctor about what is best for you to consider.

One of the first steps recommended for heartburn relief is to make modifications in lifestyle habits. These modifications include preventing heartburn before it happens, preventing nighttime heartburn, and preventing heartburn during pregnancy.

Some of the modifications suggested include:

If you suffer from heartburn during the day, chances are you will suffer from it at night too. Even if the heartburn doesn't occur every night, if you spend even 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

Some women will experience heartburn for the first time during their pregnancy, and it may be more frequent for those women who have heartburn before they became pregnant. 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 some studies, and some debate, on whether any particular food will trigger heartburn in people or not. Some researchers have stated that it is not the food that causes chronic heartburn in people, but actually when and how they eat. There are, however, those people who state that certain foods will trigger their heartburn no matter when they eat it or how much they eat. For these persons, making modifications in their diet is often helpful and preventing heartburn. It may help you too.

Diet modifications include knowing what foods are safe for heartburn sufferers, and why some foods cause heartburn. It is also helpful to know how to plan meals to avoid heartburn, and how to prepare the foods they eat. Preparation includes heartburn friendly recipes.

There are some foods we eat that can trigger a couple different responses in our bodies, and then heartburn happens. Some foods have a tendency to relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and some foods can stimulate stomach acid production. When the LES relaxes when it shouldn't, food can come back up into the esophagus and cause irritation and heartburn. When the stomach produces too much acid, there is the increased risk of this stomach acid being pushed up into the esophagus, which also can cause irritation and heartburn. 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 you may need to limit include:

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

What about "safe food?" The partial list below are those foods least likely to cause heartburn. Remember, as mentioned above, 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.

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

If your doctor feels that lifestyle modifications and dietary changes are not enough to relieve your heartburn, he or she may talk to you about using over the counter or prescription medications. These include antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Your doctor will be able to explain when an antacid may be useful, how H2 blockers work, and how proton pump inhibitors work.

Antacids include:

H2 blockers include:

Proton pump inhibitors include:

__________

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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