The Gastroenterologist Says: Check for GERD
If you have heartburn more than twice a week, you could have a condition called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. With GERD, the muscles in the lower part of your esophagus (which connects your stomach to your throat) don't fully close after you eat or drink, so the food, along with stomach acid, splashes back up into your esophagus. This is what gives you those unpleasant symptoms, including a pain or burning in your chest and/or the feeling that food is stuck behind your breastbone Photo credit: Shuttershock
Some people also experience a sore throat or coughing, or have trouble swallowing. Over time, stomach acid can damage the lining of your esophagus, which can put you at risk for ulcers and even a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus, so it's important to treat it.
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Making some basic lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking and losing weight if you have to, is an important first step. Taking antacids and other over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid can help, but if you're still having symptoms after two weeks of OTC meds, see your doctor. He may prescribe proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers, which decrease the acid made by your stomach. But keep in mind that these medications may interfere with calcium and B12, so be sure to discuss your entire medical and health history with your doctor.
DAVID C. METZ, MD, professor of medicine, the Hospital of the University of PennsylvaniaThe Integrative Medicine Expert Says: Address Stress
To treat heartburn, doctors usually focus on diet and medications, but stress often causes acid reflux. Stress-relieving tactics like deep breathingand exercising can help reduce stomach acid and ensure that your digestive system is working smoothly.
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Research also shows that GERD sufferers who got acupuncture-which can help improve the contraction and relaxation of muscles along your digestive tract-combined with medication had less severe symptoms than those who only took the drugs.
Some herbs, such as chamomile, ginger and licorice, can also lessen heartburn, so try a cup of chamomile,ginger or licorice tea with your meal. Also, be aware that cold foods and drinks can make your muscles tighten and cause backup that leads to reflux, so cut back on items like ice water and frozen yogurt.
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LAWRENCE TAW, MD, assistant clinical professor, UCLA Center for East-West Medicine
The Nutritionist Says: Watch for Trigger Foods
At the top of the heartburn hit list is fatty fare like fried foods, full-fat cheese and even veggies in lots of oil. You digest high-fat foods slowly, which causes your stomach to produce more acid. Other acidic culprits: chocolate, peppermint, coffee, alcohol, carbonated drinks, tomato sauce, and citrus fruits or juices.
Simple lowfat dishes like grilled chicken or fish, steamed vegetables and brown rice are not likely to trigger symptoms, but you don't have to eat a bland diet or avoid spicy food forever. If you're having a period of reflux, just sidestep your triggers until you have an ongoing treatment plan.
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Also, eating too much can overfill your stomach and cause discomfort, as can eating too close to bedtime (since it's hard to digest food when you're lying down).
BARBARA WENDLAND, RD, author of Chronic Heartburn: Managing Acid Reflux and GERD Through Understanding, Diet and Lifestyle
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