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Video:Avoid and Treat Heartburn

with Dr. Mona Khanna

Are you plagued by frequent heartburn? Here are just a few tips on how to avoid and treat it.See Transcript

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Transcript:Avoid and Treat Heartburn

If you've ever had a burning sensation in the middle of your chest that works its way up toward your throat, then you're all too familiar with heartburn. Also called acid indigestion, heartburn is extremely common. Estimates are that 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. For many people it's an occasional nuisance. For others, it's a daily misery that makes eating and sleeping difficult. Left untreated, it can lead to serious complications.

Different Types of Heartburn

Everybody experiences heartburn differently. Besides that painful burning sensation, it might feel like food is coming back into your mouth, or you might have a bitter taste in the back of your throat. Often, the discomfort gets worse when you bend over or lie down.

Heartburn Causes

Heartburn strikes when stomach acid flows up into your esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. At the top of your stomach, there's something called the lower esophageal sphincter that is supposed to let food into your stomach and keep what's in your stomach from flowing back up into your esophagus. When it doesn't work properly, acid spills up into your esophagus.

Many things can trigger heartburn, including:
  • Fatty and fried foods
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus
  • Tomatoes
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Large meals
  • Tight clothes
  • Eating two to three hours before going to bed
If you're pregnant, you're more likely to experience heartburn as well.

Heartburn Treatment

The good news is there are things you can do to prevent and treat heartburn. Start by tracking what you eat and then limit foods that seem to cause the problem. Eating smaller, more frequent meals, and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes will make a difference.

It also helps to avoid lying down for about two hours after you eat. There are some over-the-counter medications that can prevent heartburn from occurring. They come in two types: acid blockers that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces and protein pump inhibitors that stop your stomach from making acid at all. To be effective, you need to take these medications before heartburn starts. Once the symptoms start, antacids can help ease the pain.

Determining Whether you Have Heartburn

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between pain caused by heartburn and a heart attack. Chest pain that radiates out to your neck, jaw, or arms, shortness of breath, an irregular pulse, and sweating are all signs that you should seek emergency medical treatment.

Check with your doctor if your heartburn becomes more severe or frequent, you have trouble swallowing, or you experience nausea or vomiting. Drastic weight loss, severe hoarseness, extreme stomach pain, and black or bloody bowel movements are also reasons to see your doctor. For most people, heartburn is an occasional uncomfortable nuisance. But, if you suffer from chronic heartburn, you shouldn't just ignore it. Left untreated, it can cause serious permanent damage to your esophagus. Fortunately, the odds are good that changes in diet and lifestyle combined with the right medication will help you get it under control.

I'm Dr. Mona Khanna, About Health.
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