’Tis the season… for heartburn


The festive season is now in full swing, which for many can mean a lot of parties, long lunches, and the potential to overindulge in rich, delicious foods we don’t normally consume in our daily diet.

We all want to enjoy and splurge a little at this time of year. Unfortunately the change in diet and disruption to regular exercise regimes along with addition of holiday stresses can all contribute to you receiving the holiday gift that no one wants – Heartburn.

The excess of sugars, carbs, caffeine and alcohol often consumed at this time of year all play a huge role in contributing to heartburn – and overindulgence is often to blame. While many of us love nothing more than falling asleep on the floor while watching the cricket after a huge family meal, both of these things are key contributors to heartburn.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is an irritation of the oesophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This happens when the contents of the stomach back up into the oesophagus, causing a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone.

Symptoms of heartburn include:

  • A burning feeling in your chest just behind the breastbone
  • The sensation of pressure or pain just behind your breastbone
  • Feeling like food is ‘sticking’ in your chest or throat
  • Burping and/or bloating
  • A sour or acid taste in the back of your throat
  • Discomfort that gets worse after eating, lying down or bending over

Prevention of heartburn

We all know only too well what is in store for our stomachs at this time of year, so preventative steps can go a long way in helping avoid the pain and discomfort of heartburn:

  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight increases abdominal pressure, which can then push stomach contents up into the oesophagus.
  • Stop smoking: we all know its bad for our health – this is yet another reason to give up.
  • Don’t overdo it: try to eat smaller meals and avoid consuming too much of the common triggers (for example, onions, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, citrus fruits or juices, high-fat or spicy foods and excessive alcohol).
  • Exercise: exercise benefits a healthy digestive system. Just be sure to avoid anything strenuous directly after a heavy meal. Go for a walk with the family after your Christmas dinner
  • Probiotic supplements: these contain the good bacteria that lives in our digestive tract and regulate the system’s functions – a great way to aid your digestion
  • Don’t go to bed with a full stomach: stomach acids travel back up in the oesophagus causing inflammation. Sit up and allow your food to go down before falling asleep in front of the TV!
  • Food before drink: most alcohol absorption takes place in the stomach and high up in the digestive tract. Eating something before drinking alcohol slows the absorption
  • Hydrate: sip water alongside or between alcoholic drinks to help take the strain off the digestive tract
  • Relax: holiday stress can easily creep up on you. With stress and anxiety can come the increase in acid production
  • Chew your food: many of us wolf down our food without so much as beginning to chew it, making your stomach work harder to digest the food. Chew and swallow each mouthful before putting more food on your fork.
  • Wear lose clothes: Tight jeans, pants and skirts can put pressure on stomach releasing its acid up again towards your throat.

Home heartburn remedies

If heartburn strikes, there are some items you might have in your cupboard that can help alleviate the discomfort:

  • Bicarbonate – baking soda or Alka Seltzer: Mix 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of baking soda per glass of water. This helps neutralise stomach acid and can be taken AFTER a meal for indigestion or heartburn. Please note – as this is high in salt it is NOT recommended for people on a low salt diet or pregnant women and should only be used in moderation
  • Chewing sugarless gum: This triggers the production of saliva which in aids in washing away the acid in your throat and oesophagus.
  • Aloe vera juice: reduces and soothes inflammation in the oesophagus as well as the stomach
  • Ginger or Chamomile Tea: Chamomile tea helps reducing inflammation in stomach and Ginger tea acts as an acid buffer. These can be sipped during attacks or after a meal as a preventative measure
  • Raw Almonds: Almonds are an alkaline producing food and can neutralize the acid that causes burning sensation in the oesophagus
  • Have a banana: Bananas are high in potassium which is also an alkaline mineral. Eating an overripe banana will help to reduce the overall acidity of the stomach

When should you see a doctor?

Heartburn can be very similar to the sensations people feel when having a heart attack. If the pain radiates through to your back or down your arm, if you are short of breath or if you are in any doubt, get medical help immediately. Sometimes heartburn happens during pregnancy, but this will usually go away after the baby is born.

If the pain is more than just occasional, or if you are using an antacid more than twice a week, you should consult your GP or call 13SICK (that’s 13 7425) for a bulk-billed*, after hours doctor home visit from National Home Doctor Service. Our call centre is open from 6pm weekdays, 12pm Saturdays, all day Sunday and public holidays.
* if eligible for Medicare rebates