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Avoiding heartburn: stopping the pain before it starts

From Texas-style BBQ and juicy slabs of steak, Texas is famous for its big meals and abundance of flavors. Unfortunately, overindulging in these same foods can trigger a painful case of heartburn. Once you’ve experienced the symptoms of heartburn, chances are you’ll want to do everything possible to avoid experiencing them again. Follow these five tips to reduce your risk of heartburn.

Tip #1: Watch what you eat.

Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes, allowing stomach acid to reflux and enter your throat, causing a painful burning sensation. Certain foods, including tomatoes, citrus fruits, hot spices and peppermint, relax the lower esophagus, increasing the risk for heartburn. Cut out these trigger foods to avoid heartburn.

Tip #2: Cut the fat.

You already know that fried foods, meats high in fat and dairy products like cheese and ice cream aren’t the healthiest food choices. Not only do they lead to weight gain and increase your risk for heart disease, but they also take longer for your stomach to digest. The longer they linger in your stomach, the more pressure they put on the LES, and the greater your risk for heartburn.

Tip #3: Watch out for trigger food combinations.

Sure, tomatoes increase your risk for heartburn, but you’re probably fine with a small slice on your veggie sandwich. The real trouble comes when trigger foods are combined together, especially during a big meal. Throw down a few alcoholic drinks, inhale a couple of greasy pizza slices slathered in melted cheese, tomato sauce and sausage, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a miserable case of heartburn. Be aware of the foods you’re eating, and avoid combining trigger foods in the same meal.

Tip #4: Eat less and more often.

When you eat a big meal, especially one right before bedtime, your body struggles to digest the food. The longer food is in your stomach, the greater the chance that a trigger food can cause heartburn. A full stomach puts pressure on the LES, and lying down after a big meal also causes your food to press against the LES. This combination is the reason people typically experience heartburn after a big dinner.

Avoid heartburn by practicing moderation; eat four to five smaller meals throughout the day. Your body will have plenty of time to digest the food, you’ll feel full longer, and you’ll have more energy. An extra benefit? Eating smaller portions and four to five light meals throughout the day (rather than a few big ones) is a healthy lifestyle habit that can help lead to long-term weight loss.

Tip #5: Try a natural remedy.

Some people find that natural remedies, like apple cider vinegar mixed with water, fennel seeds or ginger root supplements can reduce or eliminate heartburn symptoms. These remedies are recommended once a day, or in conjunction with a meal that typically causes heartburn. Because some natural remedies can interfere with medications you may already be taking, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any natural treatments.

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Meal Planning Suggestions to Prevent Heartburn Symptoms

If you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) with accompanying heartburn symptoms, it’s not only important to avoid trigger foods and beverages, but it is also crucial to plan the timing and size of your meals, says The American College of Gastroenterology. Along with recommendations from your Dallas/Fort Worth physician, follow these tips to minimize or prevent heartburn:

  1. Don’t lie down after eating. Wait at least two to three hours after eating to lie down to avoid stomach acids from splashing back up into your esophagus
  2. Avoid high-fat meals. High fat foods stay in the stomach longer, increasing the risk of experiencing symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Fried and fatty foods can also weaken the LES muscle, which would allow acids to travel to the esophagus more easily.
  3. Downsize your portion size. Try to eat four or five smaller meals rather than two to three large meals. The more food in your stomach, the increased likelihood that stomach contents and acids will make their way back up the esophagus.
  4. Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking before eating, both of which weaken the LES muscle.
  5. Avoid foods that weaken the LES muscle. Foods and beverages like chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, fatty foods, fried foods and caffeinated beverages weaken and relax the LES muscle. Tomatoes, tomato juice, citrus fruits, and citrus juice may also irritate your esophageal lining.
  6. Drink water after meals. This will help to dilute stomach content and acid. You should also avoid carbonated beverages such as sodas which increase stomach pressure.
  7. Chew Gum. Chewing gum after you eat stimulates saliva, which helps to neutralize stomach acid. Be sure to not choose peppermint-flavored gum.
  8. Plan a diet high in fiber. A recent study suggests that people who followed a high-fiber diet were less likely to have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) related symptoms, such as heartburn.

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Heartburn is on the Rise, Especially Among the Middle Aged

According to the American Gastroenterology Association, more and more people are developing acid reflux, with 25 million people reporting daily symptoms and 60 million people having heartburn once per month. Just a decade ago, 15 million people reported daily symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). An aging population, growing rate of obesity, and chronic overeating are all at blame in this increase of acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle, located at the top of the stomach, is weak, allowing acid to stream back up into the esophagus. This can lead to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) symptoms such as heartburn, cough, and difficulty swallowing. Pregnant women and obese people are particularly vulnerable to acid reflux because of increased stomach pressure. Even people who have modest weight gain are more susceptible to symptoms.

Chronic Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) over many years can eventually alter the cells in the esophagus, sometimes leading to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Left untreated, Barrett’s esophagus may contribute to esophageal cancer.

If you are experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, there are a few things you can do to reduce or prevent symptoms such as not eating late at night or going to bed on a full stomach. Also, make sure you don’t sleep on your back, as this contributes to symptoms as well. Cut down on trigger foods and beverages, such as chocolate, tomatoes, spicy foods, mints, alcohol, and anything citrus. Overweight and obese people are at a higher risk for heartburn, as are those that smoke, so quitting smoking and losing weight may help a great deal in reducing the symptoms of your heartburn. If heartburn is a concern for you, changing your eating habits and shifting to an overall healthier lifestyle may be all the help you need!

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Cooking to Help Reduce Your Risk of Heartburn

Heartburn is an extremely common complaint. More than forty percent of people experience it at least once a month. If you are like the millions of Americans who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), you may encounter it even more often than that. However, it is possible to reduce your risk of heartburn while still eating the foods you enjoy. It’s just a matter of picking the options that are the least likely to provoke your heartburn. Most of these substitution suggestions can be found in any Dallas area supermarket.

  • Choose low fat versions of all dairy products. Dietary fat can exacerbate heartburn, so stick to low fat milk, yogurt and sour cream.
  • Pick low-acid products. For instance, grab low acid orange juice instead of regular. When making vegetable soup, use a clear broth instead of tomato juice, which is highly acidic. Reach for fruits like peaches before acidic pineapples, oranges or grapefruits.
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat. Picking skinless chicken thighs over those with skins, for instance, can help cut down on heartburn.
  • Cut the amount of fat you use when you cook. For instance, coat pans with nonstick spray instead of using copious amounts of oil. Go for steamed vegetables over sautéed, and try roasting over frying.
  • Pick dark and flavorful oils like sesame for salads. The full flavor means you will use less.
  • Eat smaller portions in order to reduce your risk of heartburn. You are more prone to heartburn when you over eat. Try using a smaller plate to keep your portions under control.
  • Trade in heartburn triggering desserts like chocolate or full-fat ice cream for safer choices. For instance, eat low-fat vanilla ice cream, or a slice of reduced fat peanut butter pie.

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Antacids—Effective Over-The-Counter GERD Medications

While prescription GERD medications—including H2 antagonists and proton pump inhibitors—continue to be used more widely, over-the-counter antacids are still effective GERD medications. Before trying prescription medications, many doctors will recommend lifestyle changes and over-the-counter GERD medications.

Antacids that are purchased over-the-counter may be aluminum, magnesium, or calcium based. While all of these GERD medications may be used for short-term relief from acid reflux and heartburn, each carry potential side effects. Calcium-based GERD medications are not recommended for long-term use because of the potential for acid rebounding. However, using calcium-based antacids like Tums and Rolaids on an occasional basis has not been linked to any significant health problems. Antacids that contain aluminum have been associated with an increased risk of constipation. Magnesium-based antacids, on the other hand, may cause diarrhea.

For best results, antacids should be taken about an hour after eating or immediately before acid reflux symptoms usually begin. An additional dose may also be taken two hours after eating if symptoms persist.

If you find that you need to take antacids or other over-the-counter GERD medications on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Some treatments, such as surgery, may be able to provide permanent relief from heartburn and acid reflux.

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Esophageal Dilation for GERD

If you have suffered from GERD or frequent acid reflux for a long period of time, your doctor may recommend you for esophageal dilation. Learn more about what’s involved with esophageal dilation and why your doctor may be suggesting it.

Why is your doctor recommending esophageal dilation?

Esophageal dilation is a procedure that helps widen parts of your esophagus that may have become narrow. In many cases, this narrowing occurs because scar tissue has built up along the walls of the esophagus. This scar tissue is most commonly caused by damage from frequent acid reflux.

Esophageal dilation may also be suggested if your esophagus has become more narrow due to cancer of the esophagus, scarring caused by radiation treatment, or other complications that have affected the structure of your esophagus.

How does esophageal dilation work?

You may be sedated or given a local anesthetic via throat spray before your procedure. A doctor will then insert a tube into your mouth and down into your esophagus. Next, your doctor will inflate a balloon or use plastic dilators to open up the space in your esophagus. Whatever method is used, esophageal dilation causes the opening of the esophageal tube to become wider by pushing very gently on the esophageal walls from the inside.

Are there any side effects of esophageal dilation?

The anesthetic used may cause temporary numbness in your throat, which might affect your ability to eat or drink immediately after your procedure. In very rare cases, a perforation may occur in the esophagus that needs to be corrected with surgery. Your doctor will let you know what signs of possible complications to watch for.

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How to Prevent Heartburn While You Exercise

Although exercise is recommended to improve your health, some people find that working out can cause painful heartburn and acid reflux. Should you give up getting in shape? There’s no need to live with heartburn or quit the gym.

4 Tips for Preventing Heartburn While You Exercise

  1. Wait two hours after eating to exercise. A full stomach puts pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between your stomach and esophagus that should prevent acid reflux. Give your food time to digest and you’re less likely to suffer from heartburn after your workout.
  2. Eat smart before you exercise. The National Heartburn Alliance recommends eating foods that are low in protein and fat and high in carbohydrates before a workout. Chocolate, citrus juices, caffeinated drinks, and spicy or fatty foods can trigger heartburn symptoms.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated before, during, and after your workout will help with proper digestion.
  4. Consider less-intense activities. Exercises that require a lot of bouncing or jiggling are more likely to cause acid reflux and heartburn. Try walking or other activities that won’t shake you up.

Most importantly, keep exercising. Experts agree that occasional heartburn caused by exercise is better than not getting enough physical activity. Exercise may also help you lose weight, which can reduce your risk for heartburn. If heartburn symptoms persist, your doctor can prescribe medication or suggest other treatment options.

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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heartburn

Heartburn, which is caused by stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus, is often described as a painful burning sensation in the chest. While there are medications – both prescription and over-the-counter varieties— that can help treat heartburn, there are also simple lifestyle changes you can make to keep from getting heartburn in the first place.

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Heartburn

  • Eat smaller meals. Overeating can put pressure on your stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve between your stomach and esophagus that is supposed to prevent acid reflux.
  • Eat slowly. Taking the time to chew may help you eat smaller meals. It also helps digest your food, which may result in less frequent heartburn.
  • Eat earlier. Technically, what time you eat probably won’t affect your heartburn symptoms, but laying down soon after eating can trigger reflux. Waiting about three hours after eating to lay down allows gravity to help keep stomach acid out of your esophagus.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight or obese puts pressure on the LES and increases your risk for heartburn.
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke can irritate your esophagus and relax the LES, which may lead to more frequent heartburn and more damage to the lining of your esophagus.

In addition to making these lifestyle changes, you may also want to adjust your diet in order to prevent heartburn. Keep a journal of the foods you eat that tend to lead to heartburn so that you can identify your personal heartburn triggers and know which foods to avoid.

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New Heartburn-Related Cancer Hope

Cancer of the esophagus is one of the ten most common cancers in the United States, but there may be hope for treatment of this aggressive disease.

Many of the patients who suffer from cancer of the esophagus suffered from chronic heartburn. Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when a valve separating the esophagus from the stomach is weak or missing, and stomach acids enter the esophagus, damaging it. The esophagus attempts to defend itself against heartburn by changing its composition to resemble the cells in your lower intestines. This damaged tissue, called Barrett’s esophagus, warns physicians that the patient is at a higher risk of esophageal cancer. While patients with Barrett’s esophagus can be treated and will not necessary be afflicted by cancer, the tissue cannot be changed back, so the risk of cancer occurring is constantly present.

A team of researchers testing rats have determined that since Barrett’s esophagus cells are similar to those in the colon, they may also share the same reaction to certain drugs. By using the anti-Alzheimer’s drug DBZ, which has an adverse side effect on the lining of the colon, the researchers were able to halt the growth of Barrett’s esophagus and even destroy it completely. This is extremely promising news for the fight against esophageal cancer, and human trials in the future may show significant promise.

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Heartburn Prevention Tips for Spicy Food Lovers

Millions of heartburn sufferers have been told to avoid spicy foods in order to find relief from their heartburn symptoms. But is giving up the foods you love the only answer? Check out these heartburn tips for spicy food lovers.

3 Heartburn Prevention Tips for Spicy Food Lovers

  1. Know your own heartburn triggers. Mint, alcohol, caffeinated coffee, and other foods are believed to cause the lower esophageal sphincter—the valve between the stomach and esophagus that is supposed to keep stomach acids at bay—to relax. This relaxation causes reflux. But researchers have had difficulty proving these theories during clinical trials. Doctors admit that what triggers heartburn in one person may cause no reaction in another, so the best way to prevent heartburn without unnecessarily avoiding “safe” foods is to get to know your own triggers. Keep a food journal for several weeks and document what you eat, how much you eat, and when heartburn symptoms occur.
  2. Eat smaller servings. If you find that your favorite foods do, in fact, trigger your heartburn, it’s probably best to avoid them all together. But if you can’t bear the idea of giving it up forever, try eating smaller amounts. Eating too much at one time puts added pressure on your stomach and LES, causing acid reflux and heartburn. Limiting your portion sizes might allow you to enjoy the taste of your favorite foods without paying the painful price.
  3. Chew gum. Chewing gum after and between meals stimulates the production of saliva, your body’s natural acid neutralizer. It also helps move food and acids down the esophagus and into the stomach. If you do chew gum, avoid minty flavors, as this may trigger heartburn symptoms for you.

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