HeartburnHow heartburn happens

When you eat, millions of tiny pumps in your stomach produce acid to help you digest food. Unfortunately, stomach acid can flow back into your esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. This usually happens when the valve between your stomach and esophagus (called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) does not work properly.

Normally, this valve opens to allow food and liquids to enter the stomach, and it closes to keep acid and food in the stomach. But if it doesn’t close all the way, or if it opens too often, stomach acid can move up into your esophagus. And with continued exposure to stomach acid, the esophagus may become irritated and possibly damaged, a condition known as erosive esophagitis.

Is it heartburn or acid reflux disease?

Persistent heartburn two or more days a week, despite treatment and diet changes, could be acid reflux disease (ARD), also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERO).

Since acid reflux disease affects different people in different ways, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Only your doctor can diagnose acid reflux disease and determine if there is any damage to your esophagus.

You can control your heartburn and many other symptoms of acid reflux disease with simple lifestyle modifications. Changing certain habits and making some adjustments to your daily routine can make a real difference. Here are a few tips:

Try to avoid common trigger foods:

  • Fried and fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Onions
  • Citrus fruits
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint and spearmint
  • Tomato-based foods

In addition to avoiding such trigger foods, add these daily habits to your lifestyle:

  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • If you currently smoke, try to quit
  • Try not to wear tight-fitting clothes around your waist
  • Watch your weight, and lose some if you’re overweight
  • Raise the head of your bed 6-8 inches while you sleep
  • Manage stress and how you react to it