Tummy trouble: Taming the flames of heartburn

Family gatherings, festive parties, and rich foods are all things that signify the holiday season but unfortunately can spell trouble for heartburn sufferers. By making simple changes in your eating habits, reducing stress, and adding physical activity to your schedule, you can prevent heartburn from ruining your celebrations.

Heartburn Triggers

"Moderation is key" to avoiding holiday heart burn advises Elizabeth Klein, M.D., with Providence Family Medicine in Milwaukie, Ore. "During the holiday season you tend to overeat, the stomach fills to capacity with fatty, greasy foods, and acid builds up. Almost everybody has an occasional episode."

Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Heartburn is a digestive problem that occurs when acidic stomach juices flow backward and irritate the delicate lining of the esophagus. The result is discomfort or a burning sensation under the breastbone.

Foods that trigger heartburn vary from person to person, but avoiding foods that are known irritants can help prevent heartburn. While making changes in your eating habits is a key step, regular heartburn can indicate a more serious illness, advises Dr. Klein. "When symptoms persist, it's your cue to speak with your doctor."

Diet isn't the only culprit for heartburn suffers. "Increased stress and busy schedules that don't allow for regular exercise can contribute to your heartburn symptoms," says Dr. Klein. In addition to changing your food habits, Dr. Klein suggests making time for daily physical activity to improve digestion, reduce stress and burn calories.

Foods on the Holiday Heartburn Hit-List

  • Rich sauces, eggnog, creamy cheeses, marbled meats and poultry skin
  • Alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated beverages, coffee, and citrus juices
  • Fatty, spicy and fried foods
  • Desserts, especially chocolate, peppermint and nuts

So What's a Heartburn Sufferer to Do? Some Tips to Ease the Burn

  • Eat smaller portions; avoid late-night snacking.
  • Avoid lying down after eating. Better yet, take a walk.
  • Avoid tight clothing, belts and waistbands.
  • Try antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta and Tums to neutralize stomach acid.
  • Put a foam wedge under your mattress to elevate the head of your bed. Don't prop yourself up with pillows, it only increases pressure on your abdomen.