Heartburn is a common but painful condition that affects nearly everyone at some stage during their lifetime. Often it’s just a short term or temporary inconvenience. However, for others it’s an ongoing concern which could be a symptom of an underlying problem. Making a few simple changes to your daily habits can be effective at preventing your heartburn.
What is heartburn
Heartburn, or GERD/GORD (Gastro Esophageal/Oesophageal Reflux Disease) is the harsh pain or burning sensation felt in the upper chest area when acidic stomach juices are regurgitated back up from the stomach and into the oesophagus. This is called reflux. The reason heartburn is so painful is because the oesophagus doesn’t have the same protective lining against harsh stomach acids that the stomach does. As such, heartburn can cause serious damage to the oesophagus so it’s important to learn how to control it.
Possible causes of heartburn
Suffering from heartburn during pregnancy is a common complaint though once the baby is born the symptoms usually disappear. It’s due to a combination of factors including the loosening of the sphincter muscle in the diaphragm which controls the one-way flow of food into the stomach.
Heartburn can be a symptom of another, more serious problem such as a hiatus hernia where the top of the stomach pushes through part of the diaphragm, weakening the sphincter muscle and allowing food to come back up. Other factors known to worsen symptoms of heartburn include smoking, certain medications, obesity and alcohol consumption.
Habits to stop or reduce heartburn
1. Avoid heartburn trigger foods
Some foods tend to irritate the stomach more readily than others, worsening the symptoms of heartburn. Some of the worst offenders include caffeine, spicy or high fat foods, citrus fruits and tomato based products. If any of these feature in your diet, try omitting them for a while to see if it helps the problem.
2. Control how you eat
Gulping your food down or eating while stressed can make digestion more difficult and may trigger heartburn. Take time to eat slowly, savoring your food and eat while sitting down rather than on the go. And ideally, eat smaller meals at regular times of the day.
3. Eat helpful foods
Food such as pretzels, crisp breads and oats are easy to digest and can be especially helpful for pregnant women suffering from heartburn. Drinking herbal teas such as peppermint, ginger, fennel, or chamomile can calm an upset stomach and prevent an attack of heartburn.
4. Take gentle exercise
Taking a relaxing walk after meals is a good idea, but don’t do anything too strenuous for around an hour after eating. Also, learning relaxation techniques including yoga or even meditation can be helpful if stress is a possible cause of your heartburn.
5. Change lifestyle factors
Habits such as smoking, drinking excessive alcohol and obesity can all worsen symptoms of heartburn. Cutting down or giving up smoking completely is obviously the healthiest option and it’s certainly worthwhile limiting alcoholic intake. Being overweight may worsen heartburn symptoms, even more so if meals are particularly fatty. If you're stressed while eating, this can have a negative effect on your digestion leading to heartburn later on. Try to eat in a calm atmosphere and or wait until a suitable time when you can eat mindfully without disruption.
6. Change your bedtime routine
Many people suffer from heartburn during the evening or when they go to bed. Ideally, avoid lying down for at least two hours after having your evening meal to allow your meal time to digest properly. Also, lying down flat is more likely to encourage acid reflux. As such, many heartburn sufferers find that propping themselves up higher on a couple of pillows or even elevating the top of the bed on a couple of bricks can help discourage heartburn.
Heartburn is an unpleasant and painful sensation which may be due to a temporary condition such as pregnancy, or it may be a symptom of an underlying problem. As such, it’s important to take steps to try and reduce or stop heartburn as it can damage the oesophagus. If heartburn persists, despite incorporating new daily habits into your routine, it would be wise to consult a doctor.