3 tips for controlling heartburn during the holidays

November 26, 2014 | by Denise Heady

The holiday season has arrived and, with it, a celebration of food. Chocolate, butter cookies, stuffing, pies, smoked meat – all are holiday staples. All are also the perfect recipe for heartburn.

Chronic heartburn can lead to esophageal cancer Sometimes heartburn is just heartburn. Sometimes it's a risk factor for, or a sign of, esophageal cancer.

Occasional heartburn, formally known as gastroesophageal reflux, is common, but 20 percent of Americans suffer from a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, meaning they experience heartburn and regurgitation on a chronic basis. Eventually, GERD can lead to a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus and, worse, cancer.

“Over time, gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause inflammation of the lining of the esophagus,” said Jae Kim, M.D., chief of thoracic surgery at City of Hope. “If there is enough inflammation, the normal lining is replaced with an abnormal lining, called Barrett’s esophagus.  In some cases, Barrett’s esophagus can then lead to esophageal cancer.”

The most important warning signs of esophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing and the sensation that food is getting stuck on its way down, Kim said.  These symptoms tend to occur with hard foods, like steak or dry bread. Other common symptoms of esophageal cancer include weight loss, pain in the chest and hoarseness.

Smoking and alcohol, which often plays a large role at holiday parties, can also cause heartburn and, over time, raise the risk of esophageal cancer.

“Alcohol and tobacco are the worst offenders, but caffeine, chocolate and carbonated beverages can also cause heartburn,” said Kim. “For some people, spicy foods, fatty foods and peppermint can also cause heartburn.”

To help control heartburn episodes and lower the risk of esophagus cancer, Kim suggests these lifestyle modifications:

  1. Take control of your weight. For people who are overweight, losing weight is very effective in decreasing heartburn.
  1. Ease up on the alcohol. Alcohol (and tobacco) causes the sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus to relax, which allows acid and food to come up from the stomach.
  1. Talk to your doctor about medications. Acid suppressing medications such as histamine 2 receptor antagonists (like famotidine and ranitidine) are relatively effective, but should be taken at least 30 minutes before a meal. Proton pump inhibitors (such as pantoprazole, omeprazole and lansoprazole) can also be used for patients with frequent symptoms, signs of esophageal inflammation or those patients whose symptoms are not controlled by the histamine antagonists.
Bottom line: Don't let the holidays take control of your health.


Learn more about treatment for esophageal cancer at City of Hope.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.



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