Do you remember the first time you got heartburn? Maybe it was after a particularly spicy meal or during a night when you had one or more drinks? The unexpected chest pain can be a bit scary the first time you experience it, but experts say acid reflux and its primary symptom, heartburn, is one of the most common health conditions in the US.
A common misconception about heartburn is that it’s caused entirely by what you eat. Spicy and fried foods, tomato-based foods and high-acid fruit juices are often assumed to be the culprits behind any uncomfortable flare-up, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
While there’s no denying that certain foods may increase your likelihood of reflux, experts agree that the amount of acid in these foods hardly compares to the liter of hydrochloric acid that your stomach naturally creates to breakdown what you eat. So, if it isn’t your food choices that are causing your heartburn, what is it? Chances are, it’s how you eat and other lifestyle choices are the true triggers behind your reflux.
Feeling the burn? It may be one these common culprits:
1. Chowing down too close to bedtime
Lying down within two to three hours of eating can cause serious problems. When your body is horizontal, gravity takes over making it easier for the contents of your stomach to slide back up into your esophagus. Eat meals earlier in the evening to avoid the discomfort of heartburn while trying to sleep.
2. Eating large or frequent meals
When you over-fill your stomach, it’s much easier for excess food and stomach acid to make its way back up your digestive tract. Eating frequently or at odd intervals can have the same effect.
3. High Body Mass Index
There is a clear link between heartburn and a high BMI. Added weight can create more pressure on your stomach, slow down the digestive system and cause the sphincter muscle in your esophagus to loosen, allowing more acid to get through.
4. Excessive Drinking
Alcohol relaxes the sphincter muscle in the lower esophagus. It can also cause the stomach to produce more acid while simultaneously increasing the sensitivity of the esophagus.
While the many health risks associated with smoking are well-know, one that is often overlooked is its link to heartburn. Similar to alcohol, nicotine relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing more acid to get through. Smoking also causes the body to produce lower amounts of acid-neutralizing bicarbonates that are found in saliva. These bicarbonates neutralize acid in the mouth and coat the esophagus for added protection from reflux.
Is heartburn holding you back?
Many people can control their heartburn through healthier diets and lifestyle choices, but despite their best efforts, nearly one in five Americans will still develop Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, in their lifetime. While GERD is common, if left untreated it can cause a variety of health concerns including tooth enamel erosion and throat injury, even asthma or esophageal cancer.
So, if you’re experiencing acid reflux twice a week or more, it’s time to put the antacids down, and see your doctor. With experienced gastroenterologists at the new GMC Primary Care & Specialty Center-Suwanee, you can enjoy the latest treatment options, up-to-date technology and a spa-like environment all in a convenient location that’s close to home.