Use the Heart for Good

Now that the holidays are behind us, we’ve all managed to corral our food intake, ramp up our movement program and shed extra weight that may have latched on, right? Well, if you are anything like me, reality falls a bit short.

It may take some time for life to get back to “normal.” In fact, there may some repercussions from the excesses of the holidays. One of these can be heart burn, also known as reflux esophagitis or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

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You may have a burning sensation in your throat or chest or the feeling of a lump in your throat. You may have difficulty swallowing. You may taste sour fluid or have food regurgitation. This happens when the ring-like sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus (LES) becomes irritated and doesn’t close properly.

GERD can lead to more serious health problems such as inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), ulcers, scarring, strictures that make it hard to swallow, or Barrett’s esophagus that may turn into esophageal cancer.

There are several ways to diagnose GERD. An x-ray alone or with barium swallow will indicate problems such as a hiatal hernia in which a portion of the stomach lining pushes up into the esophagus, or a stricture of tissue that interferes with swallowing. An endoscopy uses a thin tube with camera placed into your esophagus to relay images of any damage. During an endoscopy, a biopsy may be done on suspicious looking tissue for further diagnosis. Another test is a capsule or clip that is inserted into the esophagus for about 24 hours to monitor the amount of acid.

There are many known causes of GERD. Excess abdominal fat or lying down after eating can contribute to pressing stomach contents up. Often GERD will accompany pregnancy due to space limitations around the stomach from the growing fetus. Foods that irritate the LES are many and fall into the following categories: caffeine, mints, spicy, acid, carbonation, and high fat foods. Some people are surprised to learn that muffins and nut butters can cause GERD due to their high fat content, as well as alcohol due to the fact that it relaxes the esophageal sphincter.

The lifestyle choices can greatly reduce GERD. Avoiding large meals as they may increase stomach pressure and push contents into the esophagus. Lowering fat content of your meals will help as heavy fats digest more slowly. Wait at least three hours after eating to lie down or go to bed as it takes four to five hours for the stomach to fully empty. Avoid clothing that is tight around the torso. Stop smoking and avoid breathing in second-hand smoke as these are irritating to the throat. Make movement a daily part of your life to help keep extra mid-section weight off.

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It may be recommended that you use over-the-counter antacids to neutralize stomach acid. You may be prescribed a medication such as a PPI that keeps stomach cells from releasing acid, or an acid reducer such as H2 blockers. Side-effects can include rash, headache, dizziness, fever, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain. Another medication is called prokinetics which help the stomach empty more quickly. These can include side-effects of anxiety, depression, drowsiness, fatigue or muscle spasm.

So as life snaps back into routine, perhaps the grocery list will lighten, that box of holiday decorations will make it into storage and we will get moving again. Leaving the holidays behind is a necessary part of living. What better way to welcome Valentine’s day, than to become healthier, trading in that after-holiday heart-burn for a sweetheart.

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