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Common heartburn triggers

Heartburn is triggered by different things in different people, but big meals, fatty food, spicy food, alcohol and smoking are among the common causes.

Heartburn triggers - large meals and fatty foods

A big greasy burger and a large portion of chips just before bedtime is a good way to bring on heartburn. Fatty foods, large portions and late-night meals are the top three triggers that affect most people who have heartburn.

Heartburn is most common after eating a large meal. A stomach full of too much food stretches the stomach, causing you to feel "stuffed”. Stomach stretching, or distention, puts pressure on the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS), the ring of muscle that keeps stomach acids from moving in the wrong direction. Too much pressure causes the muscle to relax. So juices from your last meal may come back to haunt you. This can happen if you eat large amounts of any food, not just foods known to trigger your heartburn symptoms.

Heartburn triggers - heartburn and diet

A number of foods and drinks can irritate the oesophagus and cause the LOS to relax. Food and drinks that commonly trigger heartburn include:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Black pepper, garlic, raw onions and other spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits and products, such as oranges and orange juice
  • Coffee and caffeinated drinks including tea and cola
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes

To prevent heartburn after meals:

  • Do not overeat. Eat five or six small meals each day, instead of several large meals.
  • Do not eat before bedtime. Allow at least three hours to digest your food before lying down. Lying down makes digestion difficult and heartburn more likely.

Heartburn triggers - heartburn and exercise

Certain types of exercise can trigger heartburn. Body positions that involve bending over, such as sit-ups, increase pressure on the abdomen, thrusting stomach acids back up into the oesophagus. So you feel the burn - but not the type you would expect from going to the gym. Remember that leg lifts also work the abdominal muscles and may aggravate heartburn symptoms too.

Activities such as headstands and certain yoga moves can reverse the natural flow of digestion and may trigger heartburn. Jarring exercises, such as jogging or aerobics, can slosh stomach contents around and upwards if you have a weak LOS.

Never exercise on a full stomach. Doing so increases abdominal pressure, which makes heartburn more likely. Wait about two hours after eating before exercising. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise, but choose sports drinks wisely. High- carbohydrate sports drinks may fan the flames of heartburn. If you need sports drinks but find they trigger your heartburn symptoms, try diluting them with water.

Heartburn triggers - heartburn and medicines

Many different medicines can trigger heartburn or make heartburn worse. An aspirin here or there is not likely to lead to that burning feeling. But regular use of aspirin or a popular class of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs) can relax the LOS leading to heartburn, and can irritate the lining of the stomach. NSAIDs include ibuprofen.

If you have taken medicine for high blood pressure, it is likely that you may have had heartburn from time to time. Many blood pressure and heart disease medicines, including calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, alpha-blockers and nitrates, relax the LOS muscle, making it easy for your stomach acids to retreat backwards.

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