At one time or another, you may have felt an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest or throat shortly after eating. If not, perhaps you had a sour or bitter taste in your mouth, or maybe an unexpected cough. These are all symptoms of heartburn, also called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Heartburn and Excess Weight
Did you know that having excess weight can increase your risk for heartburn? Obesity has been shown to cause and/or worsen this condition. The link is thought to be due to excess belly fat, which puts pressure on the stomach.
The risk for heartburn seems to increase with weight gain. If you have experienced weight gain as well as any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should visit your healthcare provider (HCP) for help relieving pain, discomfort, etc. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your risk for heartburn and other related health conditions.
The Impact of Heartburn
Heartburn can be problematic, not just uncomfortable. Over time, different complications can develop as acid flows back into the esophagus:
- Irritation and inflammation
- Narrowing of the esophagus, which may affect breathing
- Sores or ulcers that have a risk of bleeding
- Esophageal cancer
Even beyond heartburn, excess weight and obesity are also associated with two other serious disorders:
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Esophageal adenocarcinoma
If you see your HCP with a complaint about heartburn, he or she can help you develop a treatment plan to do much more than just relieve heartburn-related discomfort. Treatment can also help with weight management and decrease your risk for developing more serious esophageal conditions.
Research shows that of all the lifestyle interventions that help with this condition, weight-loss is the most effective. However, if you experience symptoms while you sleep, elevate your head with an adjustable base or use pillows for added support. You can also raise your bed by using wood or cement blocks underneath the legs, or wedges between your mattress and box spring.
- Avoid or limit foods and drinks that tend to worsen symptoms. These can include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, onions, garlic, spicy foods, mint and high-fat meals.
- On your own or with help from a nutrition professional, create a controlled calorie eating plan paired with regular physical activity.
- Eat smaller meals and eat slowly.
- Ask your HCP for guidance when seeking a medication treatment plan.
- Over-the-Counter options include antacids (Mylanta or Tums), H2 blockers (Tagamet or Pepcid) that reduce stomach acid, and proton pump inhibitors (Prevacid or Prilosec) that block stomach acid and allow the esophagus to heal.
- Prescription medications are also available. Sometimes combining medications can increase effectiveness. However, side effects and interactions between medications are possible. Make sure your HCP knows what you are taking and is aware of any symptoms you are experiencing.
Changes in weight can affect heartburn and stomach acid levels in your body. Excess body fat can cause heartburn or make it worse. If you are experiencing symptoms of heartburn, it is important that you discuss them with your healthcare provider. Together you can develop an effective treatment plan.
To learn more about how weight affects heartburn, CLICK HERE for education from the Obesity Action Coalition.