A. Lauren McAvoy, a dietetic intern at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “Heartburn is quite common among adults in the United States. The most common symptom is a pain or burning sensation at the base of the breastbone, usually after eating, which may be worse at night. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). This acid reflux can irritate the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to more serious problems over time, including increased risk of esophageal cancer. Moderate to severe symptoms that occur at least once a week or mild heartburn that occurs at least twice a week is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which warrants a visit to the doctor.
“While there are many effective over-the-counter and prescription medications your doctor may recommend to treat your heartburn symptoms, implementing simple nutrition and lifestyle changes is also an important part of reducing the frequency of acid reflux: Try avoiding or limiting spicy, high fat, fried, and acidic foods (like tomato sauce and orange juice), as well as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and mint, which are known to trigger reflux in some people. When and how you eat can also contribute to heartburn symptoms: Eat slowly, chew food thoroughly, and wait at least three hours after eating before lying down. Wearing loose clothing, not bending over after eating, and elevating the head of the bed can also be helpful. Maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking are other lifestyle factors recommended to help alleviate heartburn.
“In addition to following your doctor’s advice, try monitoring your symptoms as you alter some of your behaviors to see what works best for you.”