Q: Hi Dr. I have terrible heart burn. I am 6 weeks pregnant and I just don’t know what I should do
A: Heart burn really has nothing to do with the heart…I bet all of you knew that, aye? It is usually felt as a burning sensation in the chest which feels worse on bending down or lying down. Okay, why and how does this happen? You know that the stomach produces acid to help with food digestion, right? Have you ever wondered, how come this acid isn’t all up in your mouth all the time? Well, that’s because there’s a ‘lock’ or control at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach which prevents the acid in the stomach from coming back up into the esophagus. This ‘lock’ is called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter. This lock can get strained if the esophagus opens too often or if there is too much food in the stomach…so, if you regularly over-eat, you might want to re-think that 😀 A major no-no is a very heavy meal just before you lie down. It’s almost certain you may have a heart burn
There are also conditions like pregnancy and obesity that make this sphincter stay open for prolonged periods as a result of pressure on the abdomen and there are also foods that encourage this. Examples of these ‘foods’ are fatty foods, alcohol, orange juice, chocolate and coffee, onions, tomatoes, peppermint and spicy foods.
So for the person in the question, I suggest you keep a food diary over a period of time and try to figure out the trigger foods. If this is not the issue, perhaps it’s a weight issue or even over-eating.
Treatment is targeted at the acid and healing the esophagus. Remember that occasional heart burn is not regarded a problem but if it happens frequently, like two or more times every week, then it becomes a problem and is now referred to as Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). So, drugs used can stop acid production, reduce acid production and cause healing of the esophagus or neutralize the effect of the acid.
Prevention involves trying to avoid your trigger foods (quite a number are actually healthy 😀 maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding heavy meals just before bedtime, try eating smaller meals and avoid tight clothes that may also put pressure on your abdomen.
Have a fabulous evening and remember…no heavy meals before bedtime.
Here’s to a healthier you!