Alcohol Is a Heartburn Trigger

Man drinking pint of beer
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For those who suffer the burn of gastroesophageal reflux, otherwise known as heartburn, identify triggers can be as important as finding relief with medicines. That's why it's important to know that what you drink —and what you don't drink—can be just as important as what you eat. 

Why Alcohol Makes Heartburn Worse

Certain drinks, including alcohol, can trigger or worsen heartburn. have several unpleasant effects on heartburn sufferers, so it is best to avoid alcohol if you suffer from acid reflux.

This is because of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach, is relaxed due to alcohol's effects. When the LES (which is normally closed unless food is passing into the esophagus) is relaxed, it creates an opening. This allows stomach acid to flow, or reflux, back up through the esophagus. That acid moving up through the esophagus creates the burning sensation of GERD and is exactly what sufferers want to avoid.

In addition, alcohol consumption:

If You'd Still Like the Occasional Alcoholic Beverage...

While avoiding alcohol can help avoid triggering heartburn symptoms, few people want to completely forgo drinking alcohol to avoid heartburn.

If you suffer from heartburn but want to enjoy an occasional alcoholic drink, there are a few tips that may make it possible to imbibe without suffering. To minimize alcohol's affect on your digestive system:

  • Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda.
  • Drink moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages -- the suggested amounts are 1 to 2 mixed drinks, 12 to 16 ounces of wine, or 2 to 3 beers.
  • When having wine, drink white wine instead of red.
  • Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.
  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn, and avoid them as much as possible.

Cutting Back or Treating With Medication

Not everyone suffers heartburn as a result of drinking alcohol. Some people are at greater risk than others, either due to a predisposition, an already weak or damaged LES muscle, or due to being overweight or obese, which increases the risk of GERD. And for those who do notice an increase in symptoms as a result of alcohol ingestion, cutting back may not be enough.

For many people, medications such as antacids, which neutralize acid already in the digestive tract, and acid reducers, which are drugs that reduce acid production in the stomach, can be life changing. Acid reducers generally fall into one of two classes of medications. These include histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists or H2 blockers) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

As always, it is important to discuss any persistent symptoms of heartburn with your doctor. He or she may wish to conduct tests to evaluate your condition before recommending treatment. 

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