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Lifestyle changes to manage heartburn

Heartburn can be a symptom of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD, that occurs when muscles of the lower oesophagus don't work properly.

Some people take over-the-counter or prescription medication to help relieve these symptoms.

However, there are other steps a person can take to help prevent heartburn symptoms. These include:

  • Do not go to bed on a full stomach. Eat meals at least three hours before lying down. This gives you time to digest your food and empty it from your stomach. Your acid levels also have time to decrease before you put your body in a position where heartburn is more likely to occur.
  • Do not overeat. Reduce the size of portions at meal times or try eating five to six small meals instead of three large ones.
  • Eat slowly. Try putting your fork down between bites.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Avoid heartburn triggers. Stay away from foods and drinks that you find trigger your heartburn symptoms. These may include onions, peppermint, chocolate, drinks with caffeine in them, citrus fruits or juices, tomatoes and high-fat foods. A good way to work out which foods cause your symptoms is to keep a heartburn diary.
  • Lose some weight. If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve your symptoms.
  • Stop smoking. Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the oesophagus and stomach and prevents the acid-containing contents of the stomach from entering the oesophagus.
  • Avoid alcohol. If you want to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, walking, meditation, stretching or deep breathing instead of drinking alcohol.
  • Keep a heartburn diary. Keep track of when you get heartburn and the specific activities that seem to trigger this.

If your heartburn is worse when lying down:

  • Raise the head of your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your feet. You can do this by placing 15 cm (six inch) blocks under the bed posts at the head of the bed. Do not use piles of pillows to achieve the same goal. You will only put your head at an angle that can increase pressure on your stomach and make your heartburn worse.
  • Eat earlier. Try not to eat for at least three hours before you go to sleep.
  • If your heartburn gets worse after exercise:
  • Time your meals. Wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising. If you exercise any sooner, you may trigger heartburn.
  • Drink more water. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise to help prevent dehydration.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 15, 2016

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