By Cindy McDaniel & Clarie Harrleson

Whether it’s thoughts of Granny’s chicken and dressing, Mom’s homemade chocolate pie or Uncle Mike’s deep-fried turkey dancing in your head, no holiday celebration would be complete without food – and lots of it.

Often the result of holiday overeating has many Americans reaching for an antacid instead of another piece of pie because of heartburn. This common problem afflicts more than 60 million people in the United States. It is described as a burning sensation in your chest, just behind your breastbone, caused by stomach acid backing up into your esophagus.

When you swallow, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, called the LES or lower esophageal sphincter, relaxes to allow food to pass into your stomach. The LES can weaken or relax abnormally – especially when a person overeats – and this causes the acid to come up into the esophagus, resulting in the symptom of heartburn. Chronic heartburn or acid reflux (more than three times a week) may be diagnosed as gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD.

Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, followed by belching, regurgitating (where fluid refluxes into the throat and/or mouth) or globus (clearing the throat or feeling a lump in the throat). Symptoms that are red flags for serious problems are difficulty swallowing, vomiting blood or weight loss. For these more serious symptoms, talk to your primary care physician.

A number of patients suffer from atypical symptoms, such as chronic cough, hoarseness, asthma, nausea or a bad taste. We know that these symptoms can come from a phenomenon called non-acid reflux disease. In this condition, the contents of the stomach refluxing back into the esophagus are not acidic in nature, unlike those in acid reflux. Non-acid reflux sufferers may find help with lifestyle modifications or medications, but the patient’s primary physician may consult a gastroenterologist to be certain.

For the millions of Americans who suffer from heartburn, the holidays can be a painful affair if not managed properly. Below is a list of certain lifestyle changes a person can follow to lessen the symptoms of heartburn:

1. Avoid food and beverages that can increase symptom of heartburn, such as spicy and fatty foods, alcoholic beverages, peppermints, tomato or citrus juice, chocolate, coffee, colas and tea.

2. Decrease the size of portions at mealtimes. Don’t overeat!

3. Eat meals two to three hours before lying down.

4. Elevate the head of the bed four to six inches using blocks or telephone books.

5. If you are overweight, lose weight.

6. Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing that can increase pressure on the abdomen.

7. Stop smoking.

If these recommendations do not help, contact your physician. Therapy then involves medication to reduce acid reflux or laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgery to stop reflux. Specialty trained nurses and physicians at the Heartburn Center of Mississippi, located at the Center for Digestive Health on North Mississippi Medical Center’s campus, use the latest technology to help diagnose and treat both acid and non-acid reflux disease.

Occasional heartburn is not abnormal. Most people can manage this by pushing themselves away from the table and taking an over-the-counter medication. If these medications don’t completely control symptoms and reflux symptoms persist, referral to a gastroenterologist may be required.

For more information regarding GERD call (877) 825-0068 or visit

Have a great “heartburn free” holiday season!

Registered nurses Cindy McDaniel and Claire Harrelson, who both hold national certification in gastroenterology, offer help for heartburn at the Heartburn Treatment Center of Mississippi in Tupelo.

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