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What is heartburn and how can you avoid it?

When you’re young, a night of indulging in pizza or burgers may lead to the occasional heartburn but without any serious consequences. However, as you age, heartburn can become a more frequent irritant that can be quite painful, and even dangerous at times.

What is heartburn?

Whilst the name suggests otherwise, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart. This medical condition goes by many names, such as acid reflux or acid indigestion. It occurs when stomach acids revert back into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, known as the oesophagus. You will know you are experiencing it when you feel an uncomfortable and burning sensation right in the centre of your chest behind your breastbone. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, and the pain usually worsens when you change your posture.

It is difficult to pinpoint a specific age when the symptoms of heartburn get worse, however they do tend to become more frequent with age.

Why does heartburn worsen over time?

As you get older, a few factors can come into play that will make your acid reflux worse and increase your heartburns. Some of these factors include:

1.     Aging muscles

Muscles weaken as you age, including some that play a crucial role in preventing heartburn. The oesophageal sphincter is a muscle that opens when you swallow, and squeezes tight the rest of the time to prevent any food and acid going back up. As your muscles weaken, this oesophageal sphincter becomes less effective in preventing heartburn.

2.     Slowing down of the digestive system

Your digestive system tends to slow down over time, meaning it can take much longer for food to be processed. When digested food material does not pass into the small intestine within a normal timeframe, heartburn can occur.

3.     Weight gain

As you age, it is normal to put on weight. However, when you carry that extra weight around your midsection, it puts pressure onto your abdomen and stomach. This in-turn pushes acid into your oesophagus.

How to prevent it

Unfortunately, it’s usually the most delicious foods that lead to the presence of these unpleasant symptoms. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you should minimise certain foods such  as coffee, chocolate, alcohol and even peppermint. Whilst eating a balanced diet will not get rid of heartburn altogether, it can decrease the likelihood of it occurring. For some healthy tips on how to eat a balanced diet, read our healthy food swaps ideas.

If you are only experiencing heartburn a few times a month, and you know it is related to something you ate or drank, then taking over-the-counter acid reducers should be enough to control it. However, if you’re finding that you’re experiencing heartburn more regularly, you should book in a visit to your doctor so they can monitor your symptoms and help reduce that burning sensation!

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