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Four Reasons Why Heartburn Gets Worse as You Age

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Are you experiencing heartburn more and more frequently? Has it changed from an occasional inconvenience to a frequent irritant? Do your favorite foods leave you feeling uncomfortable? If so, you’re not alone. Most adults experience heartburn. As you age, it can become a more frequent experience.

Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. When mild acid reflux occurs two or more times per week or severe acid reflux occurs one or more times per week, it’s considered GERD.

Are you experiencing more heartburn as you age? Here are four common reasons why.

1. Weakening Muscles

Aging causes muscles to weaken. This includes weakening in your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When you eat, food goes down your throat, through your esophagus, into your stomach. The LES is the circular muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. When you’re not eating, the LES is closed, which keeps stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. As you age, the LES can weaken and stop functioning properly.

2. Increase in Weight

It’s common for older adults to carry extra weight. This weight can weaken the LES. In addition, the risk and severity of GERD are higher in overweight people. The reason for this is unclear. One measure of health is the body mass index (BMI). This calculation uses your height and weight to determine if you are at a healthy weight. If you are not at a healthy weight and want to make a change, our nutrition counseling services can help.

3. Taking More Prescription Medications

With aging comes the deterioration of health and an increase in prescribed medication. Some medications, like those to treat blood pressure, antidepressants, and opiates, cause heartburn. Being overweight and medication side effects are the leading cause of heartburn.

4. Development of Hiatal Hernia

Hiatal hernia, or when the upper part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity, is common in older people. 60 percent of people over sixty may have one! Though most are small and asymptomatic, larger Hiatal hernias can cause heartburn.

Small Changes Can Relieve Heartburn

Dietary changes can prevent heartburn. Avoiding fatty, spicy, or acidic foods can ease the symptoms of acid reflux.

If you experience worse heartburn at night, there are changes you can make.  Try changing your sleeping position. A body pillow or sleep-positioning device can keep you on your left side and elevate your head.

When to See Your Gastroenterologist

If you have more than two episodes of heartburn a week, seek medical attention. Your gastroenterologist may adjust your medications, encourage you to lose weight, or suggest a proton pump inhibitor to help with heartburn.

If you’re suffering from heartburn more than twice a week, make an appointment today.

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