To Your Health
How to put out the fire
A third of all Americans suffer a heartburn attack weekly, when acidic gastric juices back up, rising out of the stomach to burn the esophagus, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. All this discomfort fuels huge expenditures on over-the-counter antacids — more than a billion dollars each year. Heartburn isn’t just uncomfortable; untamed, it can lead to more serious conditions. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic form of heartburn, can severely damage the lining of your esophagus, even paving the way for esophageal cancer. It’s rare but deadly; The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 16,000 men and women will be diagnosed this year, and more than 14,000 will die from it.
Beyond over-the-counter treatments like Mylanta, Maalox, Rolaids and Tums, which neutralize stomach acid, there are a host of prescription meds. H2 receptor blockers like Tagament, Pepcid and Zantac, and proton pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prilosec all work to reduce acid production. While generally effective, these meds can sometimes be avoided if you make a few simple lifestyle changes.
Here are six heartburn-prevention techniques. As always, consult your doctor, and never discontinue prescription meds without a consult. Finally, be aware that what feels like heartburn can actually signal an ulcer or even a heart attack.
1. Shun the trigger foods. Alcoholic drinks, chocolate, anything that’s deep-fat fried, salsa and other tomato-based foods, colas, coffee and orange juice are among the usual suspects. Trial and error will teach you which ones push your buttons.
2. Get comfy. Choose roomy rather than form-fitting clothes. You don’t want your undergarments acting like a toothpaste tube pushing food back into the esophagus.
3. Elevate your bed. A couple of bricks under the headboard, raising it 6 to 9 inches, can help keep your dinner headed downstream while you sleep.
4. Downsize your servings. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can ease the pain.
5. Downsize yourself. Losing weight can alleviate, even eliminate heartburn.
6. Meditate. You can use progressive muscle relaxation (tighten, then relax each muscle group), autogenic training (imagining that your stomach is warm and heavy), meditation and guided imagery to ward off heartburn. For more on how to use these techniques, go to johnshopkinshealthalerts.com.