“Is your food fighting you?” There are television ads about heartburn urging you to “fight back,” but maybe you just need to check out the facts with a specialist.
Heartburn is very common and can strike people of all ages and any kind of medical history. It is largely a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or even stomach content flows back into the food pipe (esophagus). The backwash or reflux irritates the lining of the esophagus causing GERD.
Heartburn should be taken seriously. If you have heartburn frequently and it hinders your quality of life, talk to your primary care doctor. You may be referred to a gastroenterologist. Before your visit, ask yourself:
- At what point each day does my heartburn occur?
- What am I eating and does heartburn occur with those foods?
- Am I having trouble swallowing?
- Have I recently gained or lost weight?
- Do I have vomiting with the heartburn?
Christy Dibble, DO, director of the Center for Women’s Gastrointestinal Health at Women & Infants Hospital and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, explains that the answer for heartburn is not always medication.
“Lifestyle changes are usually what we recommend first to treat heartburn,” she says. “Eliminating certain foods from your diet like caffeine, chocolate, saturated fat and citrus will usually contribute to significant relief. Weight loss helps, too. Rapid weight gain has been found to significantly contribute to GERD.”
Even tips like elevating the head of your bed at night while sleeping and wearing loose-fitting clothing can help.
But lifestyle changes are sometimes not enough. Those who are significantly impacted by heartburn should see a gastroenterologist several times a year to maintain lifestyle changes and symptom management medication. Anyone age 50 or older who suffers from severe heartburn needs to have an endoscopy, especially white males who are at risk for esophageal cancer.
Pregnant women who suffer from heartburn can take antacids, which are considered safe to take during pregnancy and have no proven negative effects on the ability to breast feed after birth.