Unfortunately, heartburn isn’t something foreign to most of us. We have all, on occasion, experienced that burning sensation in our chest. In fact, as you get older heartburn tends to become more frequent. There are many things in your body that shift, change, and weaken as you get older and you don’t always have control over them. But when it comes to heartburn, you don’t have to shrug your shoulders and say, “It is what it is.” In fact, you may be making things worse if you experience heartburn frequently and ignore it.
The Links Between Age and Heartburn
You’ll notice that as you age, so do your muscles. Your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is not exempt from this natural weakening. A strong esophageal sphincter will remain shut until food needs to pass from the esophagus into the stomach. But when this muscle is weak, stomach acid can flow into the esophagus which causes the burning sensation in your chest. As you get older, it may also be more difficult to keep excess weight off. Weight gain plays a role in the weakening of the LES which may be one of the reasons your heartburn becomes more frequent. Heartburn is also a side effect to many medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure medicine, and opiates. The presence of a hiatal hernia is another reason you may experience more frequent heartburn. This type of hernia is common in men and women over 60 years old. It is found in the abdomen and pushes the stomach into the chest cavity which causes heartburn.
Why You Should See Your Doctor
Even though heartburn may become more frequent, it is not something you have to shrug off as more proof that your body is aging. You may have a more serious condition if you experience heartburn more than twice in one week. Heartburn is the number one symptom of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). If GERD continues without diagnosis and treatment, the lining of your esophagus can become more and more irritated leading to more serious and painful issues. As acid continues to flow into your esophagus, scar tissue builds and causes the esophagus to narrow. This is known as an esophageal stricture. Or, an esophageal ulcer can develop as the tissue dissolves, leaving open sores along your esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus can also develop as a result of GERD. Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition that changes the tissue of your esophagus and increases your risk for esophageal cancer. If you experience heartburn frequently within one week, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. They can help you determine the best course of action to lower your heartburn occurrences and stop GERD from progressing.
Limit Your Heartburn Today
You don’t have to wait until you’ve been diagnosed with GERD to start taking steps toward preventing heartburn. There are several lifestyle changes you can make today to limit heartburn occurrences. First, stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Tobacco weakens the LES and reduces your ability to produce saliva, a neutralizer to stomach acid. Alcohol increases your production of stomach acid while also weakening your esophageal sphincter. If you have heartburn after consuming an alcoholic beverage, it’s in your best interest to stop drinking alcohol altogether. Otherwise, use caution and limit the number of drinks you consume at one time.
Food is another trigger for heartburn. In most cases, heartburn is associated with spicy food, fried food, or products that are high in fat or extremely acidic. Coffee, chocolate, and tomato-based products are also linked to heartburn. When you notice that certain types of food cause heartburn, you may need to eliminate them from your diet. You can also try eating several small meals throughout your day or eating a light meal for dinner. We recommend not lying down for at least three hours after you eat, which means that you should avoid eating a snack right before bed. Talk to your doctor about the best way to avoid heartburn.
If you are concerned about heartburn or notice that you experience heartburn frequently, make an appointment with Dr. Sameer Islam. It should not be ignored as simply a part of aging.