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How do I Deal with Frequent Heartburn?

Article Details
  • Written By: Carol Kindle
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 June 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Heartburn refers to pain that occurs when stomach acid irritates the lower esophagus. It is considered frequent heartburn when it occurs several times per week. Reducing the frequency of heartburn symptoms is important in order to prevent the more harmful condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms may be reduced by eliminating chemical substances from the diet, such as alcohol, that can trigger heartburn. Various lifestyle changes, such as eating small meals, may also ease symptoms.

Occasional heartburn is uncomfortable but not usually a problem. Heartburn is the back up of stomach acid into the lower portion of the esophagus. Stomach acid can damage the lining of the esophagus, and so pain from frequent heartburn should not be ignored.

The upper opening of the stomach has a round sphincter muscle that opens and closes to allow food to enter the stomach. Food is not meant to leave the stomach through the upper sphincter muscle. Certain substances or physical stress on the sphincter will cause it to relax and open unexpectedly. Stomach acid will then leak into the esophagus and cause pain and bloating. Symptoms of heartburn usually appear within 30 minutes of eating a meal.

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To deal with frequent heartburn, the patient must identify any chemical substances that trigger the symptoms. Common triggers that are known to relax the sphincter around the stomach are nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. If the patient can stop smoking, there would be other health benefits in addition to possibly easing frequent heartburn. Substituting caffeine-free drinks for coffee or soda may also be beneficial. Alcohol use should be eliminated until the patient understands whether alcohol will trigger symptoms.

Physical pressures may bring on frequent heartburn. Being overweight or wearing tight clothing can put pressure on the stomach and cause the contents to spill into the esophagus. A large meal can put pressure on the sphincter muscle, while also taking longer to digest. Meals high in fat also take longer to digest. The longer food is in the stomach, the more chance there is that acid will escape from the stomach.

Various lifestyle changes may be beneficial for the patient with frequent heartburn. Eating small meals several times a day will keep the stomach empty and allow the food to digest. The patient should eat the last meal of the day several hours before going to bed. Lying down after a meal may allow stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus. Sleeping with the head elevated can also relieve symptoms.

Medications that either block stomach acid production or neutralize acid after it has been produced may provide temporary relief. Long term relief from frequent heartburn is most successful when the patient changes behavior. Elimination of chemical triggers may provide overall health benefits for the patient as well.

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