Holiday Heartburn May Be Serious
Jane Arraf
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- 'Tis the season to experience heartburn, findings from a survey of more than 1,000 adults in the US suggest.
According to the survey, 66% of adults suffer from heartburn " a burning sensation in the center of the chest. And 26% of heartburn sufferers surveyed said Christmas is the holiday when they are most likely to feel the digestive complaint. Christmas came in second only to Thanksgiving " named the No. 1 heartburn-inducing holiday by 41% of sufferers surveyed. Among women, however, Christmas ranked first among holidays causing heartburn.
While heartburn is far from festive, what many people mistake for heartburn may actually be a more serious digestive problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to Dr. Peter McNally, of Evans Army Hospital in Colorado Springs. McNally is a spokesperson for the American College of Gastroenterology.
"Heartburn is a symptom,'' McNally explained in an interview with Reuters Health. "GERD is a disease " a condition where, basically, people have chronic symptoms of heartburn, not (simply) an isolated case of 'Gee-I-ate-too-much-pizza-and-went-to-bed-with-a-full-stomach' heartburn.''
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, and, quite literally, burns it. Eating fatty foods, mints, and chocolate can trigger heartburn, as can drinking alcohol, citrus juice, coffee, cola, and tomato juice. Bending and stooping, reclining after eating, cycling, and wearing tight clothes can also contribute, as can certain drugs, including calcium channel antagonists, muscle relaxants prescribed for back pain, progesterone, estrogen, and nicotine and nicotine patches, McNally explained.
The best way to avoid heartburn is to cut back on foods that trigger the problem, he said. Antacids can also help, as can a newer class of drugs called H2 blockers, which include over-the-counter remedies such as Pepcid-AC or Tagamet.
If you simply must indulge in Aunt Mina's famous holiday butter cookies, take an antacid after, or an H2 blocker an hour beforehand, McNally suggests.
If you have heartburn twice a week or more, however, or if you have the sensation that the food you swallow is sticking in your throat, have stomach acid backing up into your throat and causing choking or hoarseness, or if you vomit blood, you probably have GERD and should see a physician, McNally advises.
A free video and brochure about heartburn and GERD is available by calling the American College of Gastroenterology at 1-800-HRT-BURN.