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Feeling The Burn: Self-Care for Heartburn
After a year like no other, we are beginning to see glimpses of a return to our pre-pandemic lives. Public health guidance and scientific advances mean we are trickling back into our favorite restaurants, joining together to share meals, and toasting to a year of missing family and friends.
But these celebrations come with their fair share of greasy foods and bubbly beverages. And unfortunately, our favorite indulgences often bring an all-too-familiar side effect: heartburn.
Also known as acid reflux, heartburn can be a miserable experience: the burning sensation in your chest or throat may start after finishing a meal and last for hours afterwards. Other symptoms can include a hot, sour, or acidic fluid feeling in the back of your throat, as well as a lingering cough, sore throat, or hoarse voice. May is Digestive Disease Awareness Month so it’s a great time to learn about self-care for heartburn.
If you experience heartburn, you’re not alone: more than one in four adults have occasional heartburn with symptoms occurring at least once a week. And for some people, frequent heartburn is a struggle, with symptoms re-occurring even more often.
“Stress and unhealthy eating are two major causes of digestive symptoms including heartburn, and right now, my patients are experiencing both” says Dr. Michael Kreines of the Ohio Gastroenterology & Liver Institute. “With so many treatment options available for different types of heartburn, it can be tricky to know which option is best for you.”
The first step to managing your heartburn is to take a look at your lifestyle choices. “It can be tempting to overindulge since we’ve gone so long without a reason to celebrate. But if you are prone to experiencing heartburn, it’s important to avoid common triggers such as fatty and greasy foods and alcohol,” says Kreines.
In addition to smart food choices, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be a safe and effective way to help alleviate heartburn symptoms. For occasional heartburn symptoms, Dr. Kreines recommends OTC antacids (such as Gaviscon, Mylanta, or TUMS) or H2 blockers (such as PEPCID or Tagamet).
“If you suffer from heartburn two or more days per week, you may benefit from OTC proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs,” says Kreines. “PPIs — which include brand names Nexium 24HR, Prevacid 24HR, Prilosec OTC or Zegrid OTC — are specifically indicated to treat symptoms of frequent heartburn.”
The right treatment depends on the frequency and cause of your heartburn symptoms. Always talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions, or if you are struggling with more chronic or severe cases of heartburn. They can properly diagnose heartburn and other conditions.
“Whatever you do, don’t ignore your heartburn symptoms,” says Dr. Kreines. “In addition to causing significant pain, if left untreated, the stomach acid that causes heartburn can damage the esophagus — known as GERD.”
Your return to normal doesn’t have to mean a return to heartburn symptoms. Be aware of your treatment options to keep heartburn at bay. To learn more, visit www.KnowYourOTCs.org. Created by the CHPA Educational Foundation, the site serves as a resource to help you navigate the OTC aisle when treating heartburn or other symptoms.