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How to be jolly and heartburn free

Houston, TX - 12/2/2013

Attracted by the decadent treats, fried meats, and festive cocktails of the Thanksgiving-to-New-Year feast, heartburn can be an unwelcome guest during the holidays.

According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, acid reflux affects about 30 million Americans. Experts from Houston Methodist Hospital explain how you can prevent heartburn during the holidays.

Keeping acid under control

Aside from losing weight -- as little as five pounds -- to alleviate reflux symptoms, Kari Kooi, registered dietician at Houston Methodist Hospital, has some other suggestions.

·         Chew fruit-flavored or cinnamon sugarless gum -- Chewing gum after a meal increases the production of saliva, which helps neutralize stomach acid. And increased swallowing can help clear acid from the esophagus. Steer clear of mint flavored gums as mint is a common reflux trigger and choose sugarless gum to prevent cavities.  

·         Eat slowly and mindfully in a relaxed state -- Make meals last at least 20 minutes and pay attention to when your stomach feels full.  Eat from an 8- to 10-inch plate to minimize portions and don’t stack your food.

·         Know your personal triggers -- Reflux triggers tend to vary individually, so it’s important to identify your personal triggers. Keeping a heartburn journal and documenting details such as the type of food consumed, symptoms, and the time symptoms occur, is one of the best strategies for identifying triggers.  Common triggers include fried and other fatty foods, chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee, mint, spicy foods, citrus juices and fruits, tomatoes and tomato products.

Preventing nighttime heartburn

Research shows, nighttime heartburn affects nearly four out of five individuals. The best way to combat sleep problems is to practice good sleep hygiene, according to Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Heartburn can disturb your sleep pattern and many pay for the consequences the next day, therefore leading to more serious health issues.”

Here are a few simple strategies to avoid nighttime heartburn.

·         Don’t eat meals for at least two hours before going to bed and avoid late-night snacking.

·         Try to stay away from acidic foods, such as spicy food, citrus fruits and tomatoes.

·         Drink plenty of water and do not drink alcoholic beverages after dinner.

·         Sleep on your left side and if you sleep on your back, elevate your head and shoulders. The way the body is designed, left side acid clears out of the esophagus faster. 

Silent reflux, overlooked and misdiagnosed

Silent reflux, also known as laryngopharyngeal reflux, is often overlooked and misdiagnosed. “Silent reflux is caused by acid made in the stomach that travels up into the throat,” said Dr. Eamonn Quigley, gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Many people don't have prominent heartburn symptoms, though, but have other issues related to reflux.”

Symptoms of silent reflux include:

·         Hoarseness

·         Chronic cough

·         Difficulty swallowing

·         Voice changing

·         Repetitive throat clearing

Treatment options to alleviate discomfort of silent reflux are a combination of lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and avoiding or medication.  Making these simple changes can allow for silent reflux to fade and stop the uneasiness before it even starts.

To speak with any of our experts, please contact Katie Wooldridge at 832.667.5849 or kjwooldridge@houstonmethodist.org. For more information, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also log onto www.houstonmethodist.org.