By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Heartburn and acid reflux can be prevented by several simple lifestyle changes. Some of these include:-
Complete cessation of smoking. Smoking is one of the major risk factors for heartburn. Stopping smoking helps prevent frequent attacks of heartburn.
Eating smaller and more frequently
Large meals bloat the stomach leading to a greater risk of back seepage of the acid into the esophagus. Large meals also lead to back pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
Avoiding certain foods
Some foods naturally cause increased acid secretions. Those prone to acid reflux need to avoid these foods to prevent attacks of heartburn. These include:-
fried and spicy foods
citrus fruits and juices like lemons, oranges etc. - these contain citric and other acids
tomatoes, sauces, tomato based food products like tomato juice
chocolates and caffeine containing foods like coffee - caffeine weakens the lower esophageal sphincter leading to reflux
excessive alcohol consumption - red wine especially in excess is bad for those with heartburn
carbonated beverages - these are bad for reflux both due to the gases produced also due to the high caffeine contents
chillies and peppers
garlic and onions
Meals should be healthy and balanced with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, water and fresh fish. Obesity increases pressure within the abdomen. This can push the stomach contents up into the esophagus. At least 10% of weight loss may help in reduction of heartburn symptoms. All individuals with heartburn need to try and maintain normal body weight.
Avoiding lying down after meals
After every meal at least a two to three hour break should be allowed before lying down. Lying down immediately after eating a heavy meal increases risk of reflux. Staying upright helps gravity work to keep the stomach juices from seeping back into the esophagus.
Avoiding lying flat
On lying down, it is advisable to elevate the head a few inches above the rest of the body. Lying down flat presses the stomach onto the lower esophageal sphincter and this leads to acid reflux. If the head is higher than the stomach, the gravity can act to reduce this pressure. The elevation of the head end may be achieved by placing blocks or bricks under the legs of the bed at the head end or a wedge shaped pillow may be used under the head.
Avoiding tight clothing
Too tight clothes, corsets and belts should be avoided especially after food. Clothing that fits tightly around belly squeezes the stomach and presses against the lower esophageal sphincter.
Relaxation and meditation
Stress is one of the important factors that lead to acid reflux and heartburn. Relaxation and meditation helps prevent attacks. Relaxation should include a 7 to 8 hours sleep a night as well.
Maintaining a record of aggravating factors
A record of aggravating factors that trigger an attack should be maintained. This helps in prevention of future attacks by avoidance of the triggering factor.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)