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Handling holiday heartburn

cake December 1996

From Correspondent Linda Ciampa

ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's the season for parties, plenty of good food, and, in many cases, plenty of heartburn.

More than a third of Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. Around the holidays, they suffer more often.

"Kind of like a fullness -- you can't breathe and you feel a burning sensation," said Amy Wison, who comes from a family of heartburn sufferers. They all say it gets worse around the holidays, when there's so much food around.

Meet brother Andy. "It's not like an upset stomach, but it's a burning sensation in the chest."

That burning sensation is caused by food going back up the swallowing tube, or esophagus.

Diagram

"It may be a genetic predisposition, but certain foods can make it worse," explained Dr. Stephen Brunton of the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

"Things like spicy foods, onions, chocolate, peppermint -- or just eating a lot -- will prevent the stomach from emptying and will allow the food to back up into the esophagus."

meat

So what's a heart-burn sufferer to do? Here are a few tips from the experts:

  • Avoid lying down for at least three hours after eating.

  • Elevate the head of your bed six inches.

  • Avoid cigarette smoking and large meals.

Foods on the heartburn hit list include:

  • fatty foods, like chocolate and nuts, which relax the valve between the stomach and esophagus;

  • alcohol, pepper and citrus juices, which can irritate the esophagus;

  • milk, cream, or caffeinated beverages like coffee which can produce excess stomach acid.

As for antacids, you can safely take a dose anytime you get heartburn, but if you find yourself reaching for an antacid more than twice a week there could be a serious problem.

"If you're having it more often than that, you need to see a doctor so you can get appropriate medication, as well as make sure there's not a more serious problem like ulcers or a more serious condition," advises Dr. Brunton. "If left unchecked, it could go on to cause cancer."

With some vigilance, you can make eating and drinking a little healthier and little merrier this holiday season.

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