When heartburn strikes, you’ve only got one thing on your mind: finding relief – fast! For many people this means heading to the medicine cabinet for their trusted antacid medication. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop heartburn before it starts?
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, a digestive disorder that allows gastric acids to escape from the stomach and irritate the esophagus. Unlike many other conditions, acid reflux can usually be prevented through small modifications to your diet and lifestyle. Try these preventive steps to keep your heartburn in check:
- Identify your trigger foods – Many heartburn sufferers have trigger foods, certain foods that make their heartburn worse. Some of the most common trigger foods include onions, garlic, chocolate, tomatoes and peppermint. However, it’s important to identify which foods affect you personally. What causes heartburn in one person may not cause heartburn in another.
- Alter your diet – Adhering to a low-fat, high-fiber diet is an effective way to curb heartburn. The majority of your meals should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Try to avoid foods that are fried, spicy or high in fat, as these are known to aggravate reflux.
- Eat smaller meals – Overeating may cause the stomach to become distended, which can contribute to heartburn. Keep your portions small and eat slowly so your brain will have time to register when you are full.
- Wear loose clothing – Snug waistbands, tight belts and shapewear place pressure on the midsection and encourage acid reflux. Opt for loose clothing that gives you plenty of room to breathe.
- Give up smoking – Smoking relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle that prevents stomach acid from seeping into the esophagus.
- Change your sleep habits – Lying flat at night allows digestive acid to flow into the esophagus and cause irritation. Elevate your upper body by sleeping with a wedge-shaped pillow or by raising the head of your bed with six-inch blocks. If you’re a side sleeper, studies have shown that sleeping on your left side is better at preventing heartburn than sleeping on your right side.
Lifestyle changes are excellent ways to manage heartburn, but there are times when medication is necessary. If you have ongoing acid reflux symptoms that occur two or more times per week, schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist. Further testing and stronger treatment may be necessary to help you find relief.