Heartburn occurs when stomach acids back up into the esophagus, causing pain in the middle of your chest. There is a muscle located at the base of the esophagus, called the sphincter, which normally will prohibit acids from coming back up. If that sphincter does not function properly, the acids will indeed back up into the esophagus. The cause of a malfunctioning sphincter is largely unknown.
However, there are many things in your diet and lifestyle that can contribute to the problem, causing chronic heartburn issues. The good news is that because diet and lifestyle are a piece of the problem, modifications to both can bring relief from heartburn symptoms.
Potential Causes of Heartburn
One of the first lifestyle choices that can be a contributing cause of heartburn is smoking. The chemical in cigarette smoke actually weakens the sphincter, making it easier for acids to pass through. If you are a smoker, you may see relief from your heartburn if your quit smoking. Another cause of heartburn is eating large meals. If you suffer from regular or chronic heartburn, try eating smaller meals more frequently to alleviate the full feeling in your stomach.
Wearing tight fitting clothing, especially around the waist, can be a contributing cause of heartburn as well. Switch to loose fitting clothing and see if you notice an improvement. Finally, eating too close to bedtime can cause problems while you are sleeping. Try to eat your last meal of the day more than three hours before retiring. If you still find you are waking up with heartburn pain, you can raise the head of your bed about six inches, so that you are not lying completely flat while you sleep. If none of these lifestyle changes seem to help relieve the heartburn you are experiencing, it may be time to move on to dietary changes.
Dietary Causes of Heartburn
There are some common causes of heartburn in our diet that you can try eliminating first to see if that brings relief. For example, fatty and fried foods, caffeine, chocolate and alcohol are all known to be contributing causes of recurring heartburn, because they can cause the sphincter muscle to relax and allow acids back up. Other diet choices to refrain from are citrus fruits and juices, and tomato products. If avoiding these foods and beverages don’t help, you can try keeping a food diary for several days to see if you can pinpoint which specific foods are causing your heartburn.
Recurrent heartburn is rarely serious, but it can be difficult to cope with the constant pain. By identifying the cause of your heartburn, you can avoid those things in your diet or lifestyle that are contributing to your pain and discomfort.