10 Tips for Preventing Heartburn

Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Lessen Heartburn

There are simple lifestyle changes you can make and tips you can follow that will help you prevent heartburn. Too often, heartburn limits enjoyable activities. It may seem like you either have to skip that dinner out, or go and end up with the burn. If you've had to make this decision, there are many things you can do – often simple things – to reduce the chance this will occur, freeing you to again enjoy your life completely. Make sure to look at all of these tips as most of the time it is the combination of efforts – rather than a single lifestyle change – which brings the most relief.

Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

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A full stomach can put extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which will increase the chance that some of this food will reflux into the esophagus.

Instead, eat smaller amounts at more frequent intervals throughout the day. If eating out, try to eat only half of your meal. You can ask if anyone would like to split a meal with you, or you can save face by saying you want to take half of your meal home to have a tasty lunch the next day.

Avoid Foods and Beverages That Trigger Reflux

There are some foods and beverages increase the risk of reflux. These foods may work by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, or instead, may be irritating to the esophagus on their own.

Some of these foods include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauces
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods

For more ideas on what to eat, check out these foods to avoid when you have heartburn and these foods that are usually safe for heartburn sufferers.

Don't Eat Less Than Two or Three Hours Before Bedtime

Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the LES, increasing the chances of food being refluxed from the stomach into the esophagus.

If your schedule dictates that you must eat shortly before bed, consider making your evening meal your light meal and eat a larger breakfast and lunch. Also, take a good look at the foods you eat in the evening to make sure they are on the heartburn safe list.

If You're Overweight, Lose the Extra Pounds

Obesity increases abdominal pressure, which can then push stomach contents up into the esophagus.

If you are battling your weight, your heartburn may actually be a warning sign of other ​dangers that may occur. Not only is reflux increased by obesity, but so is the risk of Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Since eating smaller meals seems to help with heartburn, reducing your portion size can have a double benefit if you struggle with your weight.

Elevate Your Head a Few Inches When You Sleep

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the lower esophageal sphincter (the "valve" between your stomach and esophagus.) With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed or use a wedge.

It generally doesn't work to just stack a few pillows to raise your head, as the angle is not effective in preventing heartburn. As an alternative to using bricks under the head or your bed (or buying an expensive reflux bed), there are different forms of wedge pillows you can purchase for this use.

Don't Wear Belts or Clothes That Fit Tightly Around Your Waist

Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen can squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the lower esophageal sphincter, and cause food to reflux into the esophagus.

Clothing that can cause problems include tight-fitting belts, slenderizing garments, control-top pantyhose, and any clothes that are just a size too small.

Stop Smoking

Smoking can cause and worsen heartburn in many ways.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke can directly weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. Many of these chemicals can also directly irritate the lining of the esophagus. In addition, smoking slows down digestion, increasing the amount of time that food will remain in the stomach ready to be refluxed into the esophagus to increase heartburn further.

If that isn't enough, smoking increases the amount of acid produced by the stomach and reduces the saliva which acts to neutralize the contents of the esophagus.

If you smoke, learn more about the role smoking plays in heartburn.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. It also increases the production of stomach acid. If you want to consume alcohol, follow these tips: Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda and drink only moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages – the suggested maximum amounts are one to two mixed drinks, 12-16 ounces of wine, or two to three beers. White wine is preferable to red with regard to heartburn. Your best bet all the way around is to skip the booze or choose non-alcoholic beer or wine whenever you can.

Not only are smoking and alcohol a bad mix when it comes to heartburn, they can work together to raise your risk of esophageal cancer as well.

Keep a Heartburn Record

Record what triggered your acid reflux episodes, the severity of each episode, how your body reacts, and what gives you relief. The next step is to take this information to your doctor so the both of you can determine what lifestyle changes you will need to make and what treatments will give you maximum relief.

It is surprising how much you can learn about what makes your heartburn worse – or what makes it better – when you journal your symptoms over time.

Take Your Medication at the Same Time Each Day

If you are taking a medication for heartburn, try to take your medication at the same time every day. If you are prone to forgetting, leave yourself a note to remind you or take your medication when you do another daily activity that you don't forget doing, such as brushing your teeth or washing your face.

Final Thoughts

Your heartburn can, in many cases, be controlled by some lifestyle modifications. Discuss the above points with your doctor, and then use them to help you take control of your heartburn.