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How to Handle Holiday Heartburn

Exercise and Nutrition
Author name: Lee Health

Raise your hand if you’ve ever indulged a holiday meal and then hit the recliner or couch to catch a holiday movie or football game –only to feel a slow burn crawl its way up into your chest?

You might be among the 60 million Americans who will experience gastroesophageal reflux (GER) this holiday season, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

Holiday heartburn may seem like a yearly tradition, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Dr. Augustine Salami, a gastroenterologist with Lee Physician Group. He offers some helpful ways to keep indigestion from feeling like a lump of hot coal in your gut.

“Heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux,” Dr. Salami explains. “GER happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. GER is a relatively minor condition that we can get from time to time.

“But it’s important to know that if it becomes chronic or worsens, have it checked it out with your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist.”

Eat smaller meals more often

Dr. Salami recommends going “small” with your meals. Instead of piling up your plate with two to three big meals every day, eat three to four smaller ones.

Of course, during the holidays, that long dining table of every conceivable dish begging for your fork will happen.

“Try to be mindful about your eating habits,” Dr. Salami advises. “Your stomach produces acid based on how much food you eat. Less food means less acid, so try to remember not to overload your stomach.”

Know your trigger foods

Spicy or fatty foods, alcohol, onions, citrus, caffeine and chocolate are common triggers of indigestion. Different foods affect different individuals, Dr. Salami says.

“If you keep track of those ‘trigger foods’ of your acid reflux, you can better avoid developing GER. But if you can’t resist eating that slice of pumpkin pie although it’s a trigger food, try to give your body time to digest it and don’t lie down for at least a few hours afterward.”

Stand tall and wear loose clothing

Tight clothing, including belts, can push stomach acid up into your esophagus.

“If you eat a big dinner, try to avoid lying down right away or exercising really hard, which can also send acid upward. Wait two or three hours because gravity helps keep stomach acid from moving upward,” Dr. Salami advises.

"You should also prop your head and upper body with two to three pillows when lying down to keep stomach contents from going up your esophagus," he adds.

Need relief? OTC antacids and acid reducers may help

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are drugs you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. According to Dr. Salami, three types of OTC medicines treat heartburn and acid reflux:

  • Antacids.  These products reduce the effects of acid in your stomach by neutralizing the acid. Chewable tablets, dissolving tablets, and liquids are can provide quick, short-term relief.
  • H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes, typically within an hour of ingestion. According to Dr. Salami, these products don’t relieve symptoms as quickly as antacids, but they do last longer.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), like H2 blockers, also reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach. They may take a longer to work than antacids and H2 blockers to reduce your symptoms, but relief will last longer. Most PPIs begin working in a few days. “PPIs are most helpful for people who have chronic heartburn, which is more than two days a week,” Dr. Salami says.

If your GER symptoms become chronic or don’t respond to OTC solutions, the condition could be the sign of an underlying problem, Dr. Salami cautions. Acid reflux not only causes immediate discomfort, but can also have lasting consequences if it goes untreated.

Contact the experts with Lee Health’s gastroenterology department. Our team works to improve your health through medication, surgical procedures, and education on lifestyle changes.

A Holiday Extra

  • Homemade Treats for the Holiday Season

    Exercise and Nutrition December 3, 2020

    This holiday season we might be trying to find more affordable gifts to give friends and family. What is more thoughtful than a homemade gift that they can cherish for years?