The holidays are a time of celebration. For most of us, this means not only shopping for gifts, but also enjoying heavier and more decadent winter foods and beverages. From Thanksgiving mashed potatoes and gravy to Christmas ham and Champagne on New Year’s Eve, this time of year can be a marathon stretch of eating and drinking. And for some, this can result in digestive discomforts, such as heartburn and bloating.
While heartburn and bloating are not life-threatening issues, they can still make us miserable at a time when we should be relaxing and enjoying ourselves. Digestive distress can be caused by something as simple as not paying close enough attention to what you’re eating and drinking while you are talking in-person, on the phone or during a Zoom call.
The reason that heartburn and bloating are often discussed during the holiday season is that our eating habits tend to change during this time.
Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus or the tube that connects your stomach to your throat. Usually, your esophagus will open and close at the right time to allow food to enter your stomach. However, sometimes the esophagus does not close tightly enough, which allows stomach acid to seep through.
When the esophagus doesn’t close tightly enough, stomach acid can cause a burning sensation in your chest behind your breastbone which gives us heartburn. Other heartburn symptoms include difficulty swallowing, long-term cough, sore throat or hoarseness, chronic cough or stomach pain in the upper abdomen.
Why would our esophagus not close as it should? One reason is overeating, which can place added pressure on the stomach and lead to heartburn. Certain foods and drinks can also increase acid production and trigger heartburn. This can include fatty or fried foods, alcohol or carbonated beverages, spicy foods, chocolate, tomato products and citrus products.
One way to avoid heartburn and bloating is simply to be more mindful of what you eat and how you eat.
Here are some other simple suggestions for those who may find themselves with nagging digestive issues during the holidays.
- Don’t overeat. This can increase your risk for heartburn later.
- Avoid carbonated beverages.
- Cut back on gassy foods such as cauliflower, beans, broccoli and cabbage.
- Take your time. Eating and drinking too fast make you swallow air, causing you to bloat.
- Get moving. Exercise can deflate “bloat.”
- De-stress. Stress and anxiety can boost heartburn risk.
Heartburn symptoms can sometimes be confused with heart attack symptoms. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience severe chest pain, have difficulty breathing or have jaw or arm pain as these may be a sign of a heart attack.
If you suffer from heartburn regularly or are looking for ways to reduce uncomfortable symptoms quickly, check out this list of suggestions from my colleague, Louis Jeansonne, MD.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 12, 2014.
Stay happy and healthy this holiday season by scheduling an annual visit with a primary care doctor. Learn more.