It’s 4am and you’re lying awake thinking you’re experiencing a heart attack. You’re wondering whether you should rush to hospital – or reach for an antacid. Sound familiar?
Acid reflux is often the cause of that painful burning sensation in your chest, known as heartburn. It happens when the ring of muscle separating your oesophagus from your stomach doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, allowing stomach acid into your oesophagus.
Acid reflux affects everyone at some point, usually when you’ve eaten too much too close to bedtime, or when there’s too much pressure on your stomach. Perhaps those skinny jeans really are too tight, or it’s time to throw away that slimming underwear for good.
If you’re experiencing heartburn several times a week – and the antacids just aren’t working any more, you may have something more serious, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and need to see a doctor.
But if your heartburn is only occasional, and typically follows a late-night curry or coffee, chances are it’s not too serious.
The good news is that acid reflux and GERD are both treatable.
Many doctors believe that acid reflux symptoms should be regularly managed with the use of prescription or non-prescription medications – but there are plenty of simple lifestyle solutions that can help too.
- Try eating six small meals rather than three big meals.
- Don’t overeat. When your stomach is bloated, it’s harder for that lower oesophageal muscle to close properly.
- Eat slowly.
- Don’t eat or drink anything two hours before bedtime.
- Chew gum as this helps you produce more saliva, which may clear the oesophagus of acid – but avoid minty flavours, as this can aggravate heartburn. Steer clear of minty toothpastes too!
- Drink aloe vera juice.
- Apples, bananas and grapes are natural antacids.
- Drink chamomile tea before bedtime.
- One teaspoon of yellow mustard mixed with half a cup of water can help to soothe heartburn.
- So can half a cup of ice-cold buttermilk.
- Avoid acidic foods such as caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, mint, tomatoes, citrus fruit, garlic and especially raw onions.
- Neutralize acidic healthy foods such as honey and berries by eating them with unsweetened almond milk.
- Eat a low-carb diet.
- Sleep with your head and shoulders up, by putting bricks or blocks under the legs of your bed.
- Sleep on your left side – as this will ensure the lower oesophageal muscle sits above the level of your stomach when you sleep.
- Avoid clothing which fits tightly around your stomach.
- Quit smoking.
- Lose weight.
- Check that you don’t have a hiatal hernia, as this often causes acid reflux.
- Sometimes, medication for other conditions may lead to acid reflux.
- Relax. While stress doesn’t directly cause acid reflux, it can lead to behaviours that trigger it.
- You might also need to change how you exercise. Exercise that causes increased pressure on your stomach, such as lifting weights, can increase the risk of acid reflux.
If your acid reflux persists or gets worse, make that appointment with your doctor. But for most people, a few simple changes to diet and lifestyle are enough to soothe your symptoms – and help you beat the burn for good.