If you’ve ever experienced heartburn, you know why it’s called that – you feel a burning sensation in your throat and upper chest, and even a bad taste in your mouth. While heartburn can have many triggers and causes, it is essentially due to the backward flow of acid, called acid reflux, when the muscles controlling the flow between the esophagus and stomach don’t close completely.
Heartburn can be very unpleasant, but fortunately there are simple things you can do to help prevent heartburn symptoms – and relieve them when they arise.
“Start by just taking note of when you experience your heartburn symptoms,” said board-certified gastroenterologist, internist and wellness expert Dr. Roshini Raj. “That can help you figure out the best ways to prevent it from recurring.”
Raj recommends keeping a simple diary or keeping track (in your phone or calendar) of when and what you eat for a few weeks, and what times of day you have heartburn symptoms. This can help you figure out which of the following strategies will be the most effective.
Notice post-meal or after-snack heartburn?
Some foods and drinks have been known to trigger episodes of heartburn, such as:
* Spicy, fried or fatty foods
* Garlic and onions
* Acidic foods such as citrus fruit/juice or tomatoes/tomato products
* Coffee, tea, alcohol, carbonated beverages
If you notice that you often have heartburn after eating or drinking one of these common triggers, try eliminating it from your diet for a while to see if you notice a difference, then re-introduce it and observe if your symptoms return. Then you’ll know what your personal heartburn trigger is.
In other cases, how you eat can be just as much the culprit as what you eat.
“Slowing down while you eat, and eating smaller meals more frequently, can help prevent symptoms from flaring up,” said Raj. “Avoid getting overfull to help reduce heartburn.”
Feeling the burn after intense exercise?
“Exercise and keeping your weight at healthy levels are actually great lifestyle practices overall for heartburn prevention,” said Raj. “But if you exercise too soon after a large meal, you could be experiencing acid reflux due to that timing.”
Eat lightly before any vigorous exercise session, or wait longer after a meal before exerting yourself more than going for a walk. Exercises involving bending over or lying down, in particular, can provoke heartburn symptoms if you do them too soon after eating.
Heartburn at bedtime?
Close to bedtime, your body slows down its processes in preparation for sleep, including digestion processes.
“Eating too close to bedtime can produce heartburn,” said Raj. “Try not eating – not even snacks – for a few hours before bedtime and see if that alleviates your symptoms.”
Another cause for heartburn at bedtime is simple gravity: When you’re standing or sitting, acid from foods you’ve eaten tends to stay down in your stomach. But when you lie down too soon after eating, this can cause a flare up of heartburn. Some people find it helpful to use a wedge-shaped cushion to raise their upper body.