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We’ve all felt the effects of that big holiday meal as sleepiness takes over and the bloating begins. A shooting chest pain awakens us from slumber. We are experiencing heartburn—one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in the world, with more than 15 million Americans suffering from it on a daily basis.

"All of the ingredients in a holiday meal can spell disaster for those who experience mild heartburn or stomach problems,” said Dr. Donald Lipkis, gastroenterology, of Alvarado Hospital. "By overindulging during these meals and desserts, many people face the unpleasant reality of heartburn.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 60 million American adults experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn, the most common symptom of GERD, is a burning discomfort in the chest or throat that results when harsh stomach acid irritates the delicate lining of the esophagus.

Most of the time, it is mild and can be controlled by modifications in one’s diet. However, there are some people who require prescription medication and even surgery to treat acid reflux.

"Those who experience frequent heartburn over an extended period of time may be exposing their esophagus to permanent damage and even possibly esophageal cancer if not treated early by their physician,” explained Dr. Lipkis. "Simple diet and lifestyle changes can help patients alleviate the ill-effects of heartburn.”

Mild symptoms can be treated by taking over-the-counter medications including Pepcid AC®, Tagamet HB® and Zantac 75® as well as making additional changes to diet and lifestyle. If symptoms continue to persist after four weeks, schedule an appointment with your doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Lipkis offers the following tips to help patients reduce holiday overindulgence symptoms:

  • Avoid lying down right after eating and within two to three hours of bedtime
  • Elevate the head of the bed four to six inches
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid eating large meals and instead, eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Avoid chocolate; coffee and alcohol; fried and fatty foods; mint products (i.e., peppermint, spearmint); carbonated beverages, and citrus fruits or juices; tomato sauce, ketchup, mustard and vinegar; and aspirin and most pain medicines (other than acetaminophen)

Dr. Lipkis added, "Above all, be cautious about heartburn, because it and acid reflux can sometimes be mistaken for heart problems. Conversely, serious heart problems are often brushed off as simply heartburn.”