Health Info & Resources for Seniors
St. Luke’s Gastroenterologist Noel Martins, MD, Offers Five Tips to Reduce Heartburn
Turkey with a crispy golden skin, cranberry sauce, stuffing, creamy and buttery mashed potatoes, green bean casserole covered with onions, eggnog, coffee, pecan pie topped with whipped cream and just a sliver of chocolate cake with peppermint sauce – sounds the perfect holiday dinner, right? Actually, it’s the recipe for a terrible case of heartburn.
Although it might taste great going down, a meal like that is a gift that keeps on giving – pain, discomfort and a burning sensation for hours after eating. It may even keep you awake at night. And, as you age, the likelihood of experiencing heartburn increases.
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle opens at the wrong time or fails to close properly. This allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Frequent or constant reflux could signal that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Difficulty swallowing is another common symptom of GERD.
“As we age, the muscles in the digestive tract become weaker, less flexible and less efficient,” says Noel Martins, MD. “In addition, many older adults are overweight and live more sedentary lifestyles, all of which can increase your risk of GERD.”
If you suspect you might have GERD, talk to your family doctor who will likely refer you to a gastroenterologist to evaluate, treat and help you manage your condition, he advises.
“At St. Luke’s Gastroenterology Specialists, we are able to perform all of the major diagnostic tests for GERD symptoms, including upper endoscopy (EGD), ambulatory pH testing (BRAVO), pH with impedance testing, and esophageal manometry,” he says “After diagnosing the extent of the problem, we commonly use medications to treat GERD, and we have endoscopic treatments and surgery options to address the problem.”
In the meantime, Dr. Martins recommends the following five tips to get you through the holidays more comfortably:
Know what foods cause you discomfort and avoid or eat them in small portions. Common heartburn triggers are:
High fat foods like gravy, buttery mashed potatoes, turkey skin, stuffing, heavy salad dressings and eggnog. Bake, broil or grill meats and vegetables rather than frying
High sugar foods like sugary drinks cookies, puddings, cakes and pies. Most desserts are also high in fat.
Acidic foods, such as citrusy fruits and sauces, tomato sauces and cranberry sauce.
Spices or other flavor enhancers like pepper, onion and garlic.
Carbonated, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Slow down. Eating quickly can increase acid reflux.
Don’t lie down too soon after eating a big meal. Standing or sitting up after a large meal will give your stomach time to digest and empty, leading to less acid reflux.
Stop eating three hours before bedtime.
Avoid or limit alcohol consumption to one or two drinks. Alcohol both increases stomach acid and relaxes the sphincter allowing more acid to be released into the esophagus. If you drink, try diluting mixed drinks with water or club soda. If you prefer wine, choose white over red.