Don't Get Burned By Heartburn

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AP Photo/EFE, Gustavo Cuevas
Heartburn affects about 20 percent of all American adults at least once a month, advises The Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall.

Someone with heartburn will experience a feeling of burning warmth or heat or other discomfort that begins in the upper abdomen just below the lower breastbone. The pain often spreads up to the throat, and sufferers may have a sour taste in their mouths. Heartburn can also lead to burping, nausea and bloating. The pain can last for up to two hours and is often worse if you are lying down or bending over. For some people, the pain can be so bad that they may feel as if they are having a heart attack.

Heartburn happens when the contents of the stomach backs up into the esophagus, which leads to irritation. Everyone has a valve called a lower esophageal sphincter. It is supposed to stop stomach contents from backing up. But this valve doesn't work properly if you experience heartburn.

It is more common in people over 45 years old and it is something that pregnant women often experience, because the uterus expands during pregnancy and places pressure on the stomach.

Here are some tips to avoid heartburn:

AVOID TRIGGER FOODS
This is obvious but many people continue to eat foods that make them feel uncomfortable. The foods that are most likely to exacerbate heartburn are coffee, chocolate, fatty foods, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, peppermint, spearmint, citrus fruits, tomatoes, whole milk and onions.

DECREASE PRESSURE ON STOMACH
The best way to do this is to avoid lying down or exercising for two to three hours after eating. When you sit, gravity helps drain food and stomach acid into your stomach. If for some reason you do have to lie down right after eating, you may want to raise your head six to eight inches.

QUIT SMOKING
Smoking leads to the relaxation of the valve where the lower esophagus meets up with the stomach, which allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.

AVOID ALCOHOL
Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of heartburn. So if you have a glass of alcohol at the end of the day as a way to unwind, try to do something else to relax you.

AVOID ASPIRIN AND OTHERS NSAIDs
These medications can cause irritation in the stomach and esophagus leading to heartburn symptoms. Instead try another over-the-counter pain reliever, such as an acetaminophen like Tylenol.

LOSE WEIGHT
Excess weight makes it more difficult for the lower esophageal sphincter to keep shut. You may also want to avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes because this can increase pressure on the abdomen and open up the sphincter.

AT WHAT POINT SHOULD YOU SEE A DOCTOR
There are many remedies to treat heartburn but you don't want to have to rely on these too much. So if you find that you are getting it more than a few times a month with increasing frequency, you should see your doctor. Heartburn is not something to take lightly because it could signal a more serious problem.