health heartburn

Heartburn can throw a wrench into your dinner plans and even disrupt the quality of your daily life. 

You look at a slice of pizza, and you already know what’s going to happen if you eat it.

After some delicious bites of cheesy goodness, you can expect to feel a burning in your chest. A good night’s sleep might also elude you if that pizza has its way.

If this sounds familiar, you may be one of the more than 60 million Americans who experience heartburn from time to time. Heartburn can throw a wrench into your dinner plans and even disrupt the quality of your daily life. Here’s what you should know about this condition and how to deal with it.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is usually caused by a weak sphincter in the esophagus, which allows stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus. This can cause a painful burning feeling in the chest and abdomen. It could also cause bad breath, nausea, vomiting and painful swallowing.

How can I improve my symptoms?

Heartburn can be persistent and disrupt your life — day and night. Fortunately, some lifestyle changes, as well as medications, can improve your symptoms:

— Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn, which may include greasy or spicy foods, carbonated drinks, citrus and others.

— Try not to overeat.

— Chew gum to help increase saliva.

— Don’t eat too close to bedtime or when you plan to exercise.

— At night, raise the head of your bed to elevate your chest.

“You can’t control all the factors that contribute to heartburn discomfort, but eating a healthy diet and exercising may help,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “Being overweight can raise your risk for heartburn, so keeping extra weight off could help ease symptoms.”

Could it be a heart attack?

Heartburn can be painful, and this chest pain is often mistaken for a heart attack. However, there are some key symptoms of a heart attack that are not present with heartburn. For example, chest pain associated with a heart attack often moves from the chest to the arm, shoulder, upper back or jaw. Heart attacks can also cause shortness of breath and dizziness.

When should I see a doctor?

Heartburn can often be managed by lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications. It may be time to see a doctor if symptoms do not improve, however. Watch for a chronic cough, hoarseness, or extreme stomach pain. You should also see a doctor if you are concerned that your heartburn symptoms might be a heart attack.

Don’t let heartburn run your life. Make changes to your diet and lifestyle to avoid heartburn when you can, and talk to your doctor to help you take control of symptoms.

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is a health care technology consultant and VP of marketing at Simplus, a platinum Salesforce partner.