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5 Reasons Heartburn Is So Common in the U.S.

5 Reasons Heartburn Is So Common in the U.S.

Heartburn is common. In fact, about 60 million Americans have it once a month. And millions experience it daily.

Heartburn is characterized by burning pain in the chest area behind the breastbone. It may accompany a bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat. Heartburn may worsen after eating, at night, or when lying down and may last minutes to hours.

Occasional heartburn is common and can typically be self-managed by lifestyle changes and non-prescription medications. However, frequent, or severe heartburn may require medical care.

Heartburn, though common, isn’t just a normal part of life to accept. But why does it happen to so many people?

Reasons Why Heartburn Is So Common in the U.S.

1. Heartburn is a symptom of medical conditions

Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Approximately 1 in 5 people experience GERD. People with GERD often have symptoms more than twice a week. Other symptoms of GERD include vomiting, difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.

People with other medical conditions, such as acid reflux and hiatal hernia, may experience heartburn. Acid reflux is the stomach acid backflow into the esophagus. Hiatal hernia, also called stomach hernia, happens when the stomach pushes up through the muscle that separates the chest and abdomen. Both acid reflux and hiatal hernia may progress to GERD.

2. Eating habits may cause heartburn

The Standard American Diet (SAD) typically includes more foods and drinks that trigger heartburn and fewer that prevent it. Foods and drinks that can trigger heartburn include:

  • Onions
  • Citrus fruit and juices
  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • Alcohol
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages

Foods that can help prevent heartburn include whole grains, root vegetables, and green vegetables. Non-citrus fruits, ginger, and low-fat milk may also help prevent heartburn.

3. Being overweight increases heartburn symptoms

Unfortunately, more than half of Americans struggle with being overweight or obese. Being at a higher weight increases the risk of developing heartburn-related medical conditions. Obesity and excess belly fat put pressure on the stomach, which can cause conditions like GERD and hiatal hernia. One of the most effective, yet challenging, lifestyle interventions for reducing symptoms is weight loss.

There are many online resources available to help with weight loss, as well as in-person help.

4. Lifestyle habits can trigger heartburn

Some lifestyle choices can cause heartburn and contribute to medical conditions that produce it. These habits include smoking, being stressed, overeating, and wearing clothes and belts that are too tight. To alleviate heartburn symptoms, it can help to make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Avoid going to bed with a full stomach
  • Avoid overeating
  • Eat more slowly
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Raise the head of the bed
  • Stop smoking

5. Certain medications can cause heartburn

Certain medications and dietary supplements can cause or worsen heartburn. Many people need to take them for various health conditions, but they can lead to chronic heartburn symptoms. Examples of these medicines include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Iron supplements
  • Pain relievers, such as NSAIDs
  • Potassium supplements
  • Anticholinergics, such as oxybutynin
  • Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline
  • Blood pressure medications such as statins and ACE inhibitors
  • Opioids

People who need to take these medications and supplements should talk to their doctor about ways to manage their heartburn symptoms.

When To Seek Help for Heartburn Symptoms

People with chronic or severe heartburn symptoms should consult their doctor if they have:

  • Heartburn that does not go away
  • Heartburn more than 2 times a week
  • No relief from over-the-counter heartburn medications
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Weight loss from difficulty eating
  • Heartburn that interferes with daily life

Don’t keep experiencing nagging heartburn symptoms – schedule an appointment today!


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