"If you know you're going to eat something that ordinarily gives you heartburn, there are medications you can take before eating that food that might help," says Dr. Deepak Agrawal, a digestive specialist at UT Southwestern.
You can try to avoid foods that cause heartburn - cheese-, grease-, and fat-laden foods such as pizza, chili, wings, burgers, and cheese-laden nachos. "Fats promote heartburn. For example, they relax the sphincter in the lower esophagus and make it easier for acid to reflux into the esophagus," Dr. Agrawal says.
If you know you'll be indulging, try a histamine receptor blocker (H2 blocker), which slows the production of stomach acid. They are generally available over the counter.
"Most people suffering from heartburn get it every now and then," says Dr. Agrawal, who specializes in gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). "Those are the people who really benefit from this medication. You can take one of those pills a half hour before a meal, and you may be able to prevent the heartburn."
That approach won't necessarily work for proton-pump inhibitors, which are really aimed at stopping daily heartburn and take at least several hours or even days to reach their full effect.
"So if you want to eat a pizza in the next half hour, it's not going to stop the acid that you're going to make in that time," Dr. Agrawal says.
Antacids still can help for heartburn. Antacids act like a sponge to soak up the excess stomach acid, but they don't prevent the stomach from creating more acid, like H2 blockers. It may help to take some antacid tablets to soak up acid currently being produced and take an H2 receptor blocker to slow the stomach from producing further acid. Eating certain types of foods or drinking milk in an attempt to reduce stomach acid generally doesn't work, he says.
"Most of the foods that we eat buffer acid, but they also stimulate the stomach to produce acid later. That's why we don't recommend them as treatment," Dr. Agrawal says.
If you are experiencing heartburn every day, have difficulty swallowing, or notice that stools are becoming black, you should see a gastroenterologist, he says.
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