Have you experienced frequent, burning chest pain? Do you wake up in the night with a sore throat? You may be experiencing heartburn—also known as acid reflux—which occurs when acid and digested food particles come back up from the stomach, breaching the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscles that opens to allow food and drink to enter the stomach and closes to prevent contents from coming back up.
Here’s what you need to know about preventing acid reflux at night.
But first: What are the risk factors for GERD?
Many risk factors can lead a person to experience heartburn. Some of those include:
● Eating spicy foods, fatty foods, citrus, garlic, chocolate, and mint
● Consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages
● Eating within three hours of going to sleep
Dr. James Dickerson, a bariatric surgeon at the Heartburn & Acid Reflux Institute at The Woodlands Hospital, talks about how universal heartburn can become a problem for people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
“It often comes up—what exactly is acid reflux and when does it become a problem? Everybody will experience some degree of acid reflux, whether you have Mexican food or alcohol, but there’s a time when it becomes a problem, and that’s when you’re starting to have too much exposure in your esophagus to acid. A lot of people treat this with medications, but there are other options when it comes to treatment, which involve surgery.”
—Dr. James Dickerson
This unpleasant sensation of intense chest pain associated with acid reflux can not only hinder a person’s ability to sleep, but it can also cause sore throats, and, if left untreated, contribute to the development of esophageal cancer.
Heartburn during pregnancy
The chances of having heartburn are much higher for people who are pregnant, even for people who haven’t experienced heartburn prior to their pregnancy.
Heartburn during pregnancy can happen for a variety of reasons—weight gain, changes in hormone levels, stress, and growing pressure within the abdomen. While many find their heartburn stops after giving birth, the chest pain that accompanies heartburn can be extremely uncomfortable. Seek help from your OBGYN to know what treatment options are available.
Tips for better sleep with heartburn
Many people with acid reflux also experience trouble sleeping. Not sleeping the right amount can lead to many other health issues. While not every treatment can solve heartburn, there are meaningful steps you can take to help reduce your acid reflux and improve your sleep.
● Lying on your left side: Many people with heartburn find relief by lying on their left side. Some believe that this is due to reduced pressure on the stomach, as compared to when you lay on your stomach or on your back.
● Raising your head and chest up: Keeping your head and upper body propped up on pillows can reduce your likelihood of heartburn. Gravity will aid your lower esophageal sphincter muscles in keeping digestive acid and food particles from refluxing into your throat and mouth.
● Avoid eating late: Eating within three hours of going to bed can make experiencing heartburn more likely. It takes time for food to pass through your stomach and into the digestive tract.
Maintain a moderate weight to prevent heartburn
Being overweight can lead to more pressure on your stomach, which can cause a greater risk of heartburn. Some doctors might recommend that you try to lose weight, if necessary, to decrease your susceptibility to acid reflux.
When it comes to figuring out if you should try to lose weight, your primary care physician can take steps to help you, for instance, by developing a weight management plan. If you are unable to lose and maintain weight, your primary care physician might refer you to a bariatric surgeon who can recommend a surgical solution.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that pregnant women should not try to lose weight during pregnancy.
Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center’s Nationally Ranked GI Program
Our gastroenterologists take a collaborative approach to digestive health and wellness. Our team’s approach results in more accurate diagnoses and better treatment for our patients with comprehensive and advanced care. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center has not only received national recognition among the best hospitals in gastroenterology and GI surgery, but we are also home to one of the largest and most experienced groups of board-certified gastroenterologists and surgeons in the United States.
For average cases of heartburn, you can ask your primary care physician for recommended medicines, such as antacids, to help you manage it. If you’re worried that you might have GERD, we’ve developed a helpful self-evaluation for you to take.
For people who have GERD and experience intense and frequent acid reflux, a gastroenterologist will be able to help you move in the right direction for your care.
Remember to schedule an appointment to help relieve your heartburn and decrease your risk of developing esophageal cancer.