What Causes Heartburn?
If you’re one of the 60 million adults in America who have heartburn at least once a month, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Most people reach for an over-the-counter acid reducer and go about their day, but that isn’t always the best solution. Rather than just treating the symptoms of heartburn by temporarily neutralizing your stomach acid, you should learn more about what causes heartburn and how to avoid getting it in the first place. If you can get a better understanding of the foods or activities that cause heartburn, you can make diet and lifestyle changes and potentially avoid that tell-tale burning sensation in your chest when your heartburn kicks in.
What Is Heartburn, Anyway?
Heartburn doesn’t actually have anything to do with your heart, it just describes a feeling that’s generally localized to your chest. Also called acid reflux, symptoms of heartburn can include a burning sensation in your chest, a sour taste in your mouth, and an uncomfortable burning taste in your throat. It is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t do its job properly. Your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a small muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach, functioning as a valve preventing the contents of your stomach from moving back up through your digestive system. When the LES doesn’t work properly, your stomach acid can flow backward through your esophagus, leading to the burning sensation and foul taste that signals the symptoms of heartburn. Many people find that certain foods can cause heartburn, as well as some lifestyle choices.
What Foods Cause Heartburn?
One of the first places you should look if you frequently experience heartburn is on your plate and in your kitchen. Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn, while other times it comes on as a result of your eating habits rather than what you’re actually eating.
If you’re trying to figure out what foods are causing your heartburn, we recommend keeping a food diary to record what you’re eating and what symptoms of heartburn you are experiencing. Possible causes include eating high fat foods like cheese, avocados, nuts, or creamy sauces. Others find that they experience it after eating spicy foods, those with high salt contents, minty foods, or a lot of onions. Acidic foods like chocolate and citrus fruits can also be a culprit. Finally, certain beverages are often responsible for heartburn. If you drink a lot of carbonated drinks, coffee, alcohol, fruit juice, soda, or milk, you should consider switching to plain water instead.
It’s important to look at more than what you’re eating and consider how you’re eating as well. Large meals can often cause the symptoms of heartburn, so consider spacing out your eating into more frequent small meals throughout the day. You should also stop eating three hours before bedtime since your stomach acid production is at an all-time high in the three hours after eating.
What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make?
If your heartburn seems to come on after any meal and you can’t trace it to one particular type of food, you might need to evaluate your lifestyle and see what you can change. Obese or overweight people are more prone to heartburn, so dropping some weight could improve it. Regular exercise can help reduce your symptoms while also aiding in any weight loss goals. Choose to go on a walk following a large meal instead of laying down on the couch to relax. You should also quit smoking if you are a smoker.
When Should I Visit My Doctor?
Occasional heartburn is totally normal, but if you experience it more than a few times a week, you should make an appointment with our team at GI Associates for an assessment. If it begins to occur more frequently or you’re feeling more severe symptoms, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a more serious condition. Avoid defaulting only to over-the-counter treatment as extended use of these medications can make the problem worse, especially if it’s not monitored by a doctor. Bring us a list of any medications you might be taking and we can review them to see if they could also be contributing to the problem.