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Heartburn: What You Need to Know

What is Heartburn? What is GERD?

Ever have a burning sensation in your chest after eating? Has this begun to happen more often as you’ve gotten older? Well, you’re not alone.

Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse after eating, at night, or when lying down or bending over. Although having an occasional bout of heartburn is normal, experiencing it more than once a week is not. Heartburn could be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition where stomach acid gets into the esophagus.

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Common Causes

As we age, various muscles throughout the body start to shrink and lose mass, including our internal muscles. The muscle responsible for heartburn or GERD is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located between the stomach and esophagus. When the LES weakens, stomach acid can enter the esophagus and cause discomfort. Other culprits include:

  • Weight gain - Carrying extra weight can cause weakness in the LES.

  • Medications - The side effects from certain prescribed medications can cause heartburn. Be sure to read the fine print if you are experiencing discomfort.

  • Hiatal hernia - A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of the stomach pushes through an opening in the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Although this can happen to anyone at any age, it frequently occurs in people over the age of 50.

  • Certain foods - Anything can trigger heartburn, but foods that tend to be more acidic (coffee, citrus fruits, onions, etc.) or have a higher fat content (bacon, cheese, etc.) can result in heartburn. Spicy food or large meals can also serve as sources of distress.

How Can We Treat It?

If you experience heartburn here and there, don’t worry. It is normal to have occasional reflux episodes. Fortunately, there simple steps you can take to soothe the pain. You can try:

  • Antacids - It’s the most common way to treat minor bouts of heartburn. Available in chalky chewables or liquids, these over-the-counter meds can help neutralize stomach acid and provide rapid relief.

  • Not smoking - Tobacco in cigarettes is known to relax the LES muscle, decreasing its ability to function properly and keep stomach acid at bay.

  • Avoiding trigger foods - Pay attention to the food and drinks that trigger your heartburn. By eliminating them from your diet, you can avoid the burning feeling in your chest.

  • Losing weight - Carrying a few extra pounds around could be putting too much pressure on the stomach, and thus loosen the valve that keeps the stomach acid out. To help shed the weight and prevent heartburn, you can try practicing portion control. When we overeat, the stomach stretches and weakens the valve leading to the esophagus. Smaller, more frequent meals can prevent the stomach from stretching.

  • Elevating your head - Try sleeping on your back with your head elevated to keep your stomach below the esophagus. If you are more of a side sleeper, try sleeping on the left side to position the esophagus in a way that makes it difficult for the stomach acid to escape.

How Presidio Home Care Can Help

Presidio Home Care provides non-medical support services to ensure our clients live full, active and healthy lives.

From preparing well-balanced meals to keeping them physically motivated, our highly trained Home Care Aides are ready to assist your loved one with heartburn relief. Contact your local office today.

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