Keep Your Holidays Happy

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Frequent Heartburn Could be More Serious Than You Think

For many of us, the holidays mean indulging in delicious foods, rich treats and seasonal drinks. When we combine these traditions with late night parties and overeating, we have the recipe for an upset stomach.

Occasional indigestion usually isn’t a concern, and readily available antacids (like Tums® and Rolaids®) can help ease discomfort. And if you know you’re going to eat something that will probably cause heartburn, take an over-the-counter H2 blocker (like Zantac® and Pepcid AC®) in advance.

If it happens often, see your doctor. You may be among the 20% of Americans who have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a condition where stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus.

Common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Frequent heartburn (once or twice a week)
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • Feeling like there is a lump in your throat
  • Chronic cough
  • Laryngitis
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

Over time, GERD can damage the esophagus, causing pain and difficulty swallowing, and even lead to an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Your doctor may prescribe a type of drug called a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI (like Prilosec® and Prevacid®), to help keep GERD under control. These medications can limit damage to the esophagus by reducing stomach acid.

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Take steps to avoid heartburn in the first place with these simple strategies:

  • Keep caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages to a minimum.
  • Eat smaller portions, and only eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Skip deep-fried and high-fat foods.
  • Avoid spicy foods, garlic, onions, tomatoes and citrus fruit.
  • Pass up full-fat dairy products and creamy dressings, sauces and gravies.
  • Say, “No thanks” to mint-flavored candy, gum and breath mints.
  • Avoid lying down for at least 3 hours after eating.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Lose weight if needed, and stay active.
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