We are talking about an unwanted guest after you’ve eaten your thanksgiving meal: heartburn. Dr. Imran Ali with UCONN Health answers our questions on why it starts and how you can prevent it.
Everybody Gets Heartburn from Time To Time But What Actually Causes It?
Dr. Ali: Gastric Reflux Disease or (GERD) is very common and up to 40% of Americans experience it. The basic mechanism of what we call commonly as heartburn is that gastric acid which is needed to help digest food creeps up into the esophagus or “food pipe” causing a that burning sensation
right behind our heart hence the term “heartburn”. The highly acidic gastric juice splashes up to the esophagus commonly because the sphincter or muscle that opens and closes the top of the stomach like a purse string is weakened or relaxed somehow. This is how that extra stomach acid
can get up into the esophagus where it shouldn’t normally be.
We See A lot of Over the Counter Medications for Gastric Reflux Which Is the Best One?
Dr. Ali: The two major drugs out there work two different ways. We have the older what I believe much safer drugs that block Histamine in the stomach where histamine tells your stomach to secrete more acid. The other very popular drugs also known as Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs actually block the acid secreting cells themselves directly. Either way you are left with less acid being produced and therefore less symptoms. Both drugs are over the counter. PPI’s do have side effects in the long term such as causing low levels of Magnesium and makes it difficult for your body to absorb important vitamins such as Calcium which is not good if you have Osteoporosis. Then you also have antacids which also help neutralize acid. If these medications do not work you must see a Gastroenterologist as persistent
heartburn can in the long term damage your esophagus or “food pipe”
What Else Can We Do To Prevent Heartburn?
Dr. Ali: The best thing that I tell my patients is to avoid symptoms by avoiding specific foods that are known triggers of GERD. You want to avoid tomatoes/citrus fruit as they are highly acidic and add to reflux symptoms. Also Chocolate has a substance called Methylxanthine which can
relax the muscles of the stomach that are supposed to keep that acid from splashing up into the esophagus. Nicotine does the same thingso it doesn’t matter if you smoke it even vaping can worsen symptoms. Believe it or not though Turkey and other lean meats help prevent GERD so enjoy that Turkey tonight, just lay off the greasy foods that can have the opposite effect and don’t lie down flat right away after the big meal!