10 tips to avoid heartburn this Thanksgiving

For many people, Thanksgiving not only means giving thanks, but it also means a big dinner and football.

So, let’s say you’ve polished off three helpings of turkey and dressing and you’re lying on the couch to catch the second half of the game. That heartburn you feel could be more serious than you think.

Thanksgiving plate with food

It could be GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Gastroesophageal reflux describes a backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Almost everyone experiences this intense feeling now and then. The usual symptom is heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation behind the breastbone, most commonly occurring after a big meal. However, when this occurs often, for example twice or more per week, you may have GERD.

Ray Clouse, MD, Washington University gastroenterologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St Louis, says that while many holiday activities can create a “perfect storm” for GERD sufferers, it’s a treatable problem.

“The simplest treatment for GERD revolves around some degree of lifestyle modification,” says Dr Clouse. “The key is reducing these pro-GERD factors: keep meals from being too large, don’t eat too much at a single setting, and be careful not to overeat just before lying down, and also avoid particularly high fat meals, which is another problem during the holidays.”

GERD is very common. Approximately 10 percent of people have symptoms on a daily basis, and according to Dr Clouse, overindulging at Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t help matters.

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“Unfortunately many of the good things in life lower pressure in the sphincter valve at the bottom of the esophagus that actually helps us prevent having reflux symptoms,” says Dr Clouse. “These things include alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, mints – many of the things that people may overindulge in over the holidays can worsen the GERD symptoms. We don’t necessarily tell people to stop all these things, but you should be careful and use any of these things in moderation.”

10 tips to avoid heartburn this Thanksgiving

“Last year alone we treated almost 20,000 patients in the DC area with GERD symptoms like heartburn,” said Dr Arnold Levy, Capital Digestive Care president and CEO. “We developed these tips to avoid holiday heartburn because we want everyone to not only enjoy their Thanksgiving meal, but decrease the after-effects that plague many of us.”

1-5 – Eat this, not that

1. White meat – High-fat foods spark acid reflux, so steer clear of dark and fried meat.

2. Baked potato – Avoid mashed potatoes, which have heavy cream and butter.

3. Non-stuffed stuffing – Cook a batch outside of the turkey to decrease fat.

4. Veggies – Head for steamed vegetables instead of a casserole.  Also, be careful of the flavoring you use – spicy foods are heartburn’s friend.

5. Water – Use your imagination with your beverage because alcohol, acidic juices, caffeinated and carbonated drinks can all trigger heartburn.

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6-10 – Do this, not that

6. Nibble, don’t gobble – Eat small portions. Let your food digest before having seconds.

7. Hold the ‘mode’ – Enjoy desserts in moderation. Skip ice cream and whipped cream, which add fat and aggravate heartburn.

8. Exercise – Let activity aid the digestive process. Take a walk, not a nap.

9. Wear loose clothing – Tight-fitting belts and apparel can squeeze your stomach, which can lead to food making its way into the esophagus.

10. Treat – Use OTC or Rx treatments as directed for temporary relief. If symptoms persist, see a doctor.

Getting a GERD diagnosis
The two major symptoms of GERD are:
  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation of gastric acid or sour contents into the mouth

Other symptoms include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, couch, hoarseness, sore throat, and a variety of other symptoms. Most of these require careful evaluation by a doctor to be certain they are caused by GERD and not other disorders.

And while those are all uncomfortable problems, Dr Clouse says hope is not lost for GERD sufferers. “It’s the kind of disorder that can be managed well with medications in the vast majority of patients. Surgical operations and endoscopic treatments also are available that are very effective as alternatives to medications for some patients,” says Dr Clouse.

He adds GERD tends to be a chronic problem and says people should meet with their doctor if they have had regular symptoms for any period of time. Approximately 60 percent of adults experience some type of GERD every year, and 20 percent of the nation is affected weekly.

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Occasional heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is common and often responds well to over-the-counter medications. Reflux is a condition where food or liquid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus.  GERD is diagnosed when symptoms occur frequently (two or more times per week).  It’s important to see a specialist for GERD treatment.  Many people ignore or mask their symptoms with over-the-counter medications, but the underlying condition can persist and develop into something more serious.

“Because GERD can lead to severe conditions like Barrett’s esophagus and even cancer, early detection and treatment is vital,” said Dr Faisal Bhinder, a Capital Digestive Care gastroenterologist with special training in the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus. “This is why at Capital Digestive Care we offer a comprehensive service that can be customized to the needs of the individual patient, ranging from screening and diagnosis through treatment.”

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