The holiday meal has been consumed, the plates cleared away, and then you feel it – that all-too-familiar burning sensation of heartburn. While just about everyone experiences episodes of heartburn or “indigestion” from time to time, heartburn that occurs more than once a week, becomes more severe, or occurs at night and wakes you from sleep may indicate something more. An underlying condition such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be the cause.
GERD is a long-term condition that occurs when stomach contents repeatedly flow backward (or reflux) into the esophagus (food tube). Over time this can irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing uncomfortable symptoms. While most people with GERD have mild symptoms, left untreated, repeated reflux and irritation of the tissue of the esophagus can lead to complications such as tissue damage or difficulty swallowing.
“It is important to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis when you have signs and symptoms of GERD,” said Ceciel T. Rooker, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). “Your healthcare provider can then work with you to develop a treatment plan to help best manage your symptoms.”
To help you avoid heartburn from making an unwanted appearance this holiday season, IFFGD offers the following five tips:
- Schedule an earlier meal. Digestion increases the amount of gastric acid naturally present in the stomach. And, a reclined position can allow stomach contents to reflux up the esophagus more easily. Occurring together, these are a recipe for reflux. While timing can vary from person to person, it is best not to eat within three or four hours of bedtime.
- Steer clear of known “problem foods.” Coming up with a list of foods to avoid involves experimenting to discover your triggers, as problem foods may differ from person to person. However, many people find that fats, onions, tomatoes and tomato products, chocolate, peppermint, and caffeine-containing foods and beverages to be particularly troublesome.
- Use smaller plates. Eating large meals can trigger symptoms, so try smaller meals spread throughout the day.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Both alcohol and tobacco are known irritants and can trigger reflux symptoms. Cut back on consumption or avoid completely to reduce reflux.
- Keep good posture during and after the meal. Sitting up while eating and avoiding lying flat for a minimum of two hours after a meal may help prevent symptoms. Additionally, standing up and walking around after eating a meal helps encourage gastric juices to flow in the right direction.
“Persistent or repeated heartburn can signal that it’s time to talk to your doctor,” said Rooker. “GERD is more than simple heartburn. If you suspect that you may have GERD, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional.”