Heartburn is an unpleasant condition that can take the pleasure out of meals and lead to some restless nights. There are a number of contributing factors to the symptoms of heartburn, but one common denominator is the surfacing of symptoms in the evening. To find out why, let us first learn a little more about the condition itself.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when stomach acids reflux back up into the esophagus. These juices are produced by the stomach to aid in the breakdown of food and contain powerful hydrochloric acid. The stomach has a natural lining to protect itself from the potent acid; however, the esophagus does not. Exposure to stomach acids can cause the esophagus to become irritated or injured resulting in heartburn. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but just because you experience heartburn does not mean you have acid reflux.
What causes heartburn?
When stomach acids enter the esophagus, heartburn occurs. In a healthy functioning esophagus, the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) opens and closes resembling a one-way valve. If this valve relaxes or becomes weakened, food and acids from the stomach can back up into the esophagus causing heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux.
So why do heartburn symptoms tend to surface at night? The answer is fairly simple. During the day, more often than not your body is upright and gravity is working in your favor to keep food and stomach acids moving through the body. In the evening, when you tend to lie down and spend more time horizontal, you do not have the added support of gravity and stomach acids can more easily sneak back up into the esophagus. Frequent heartburn at night could indicate a more advanced stage of reflux and can potentially lead to sudden awakening, sleep loss, and daytime fatigue.
Here are some tips to help reduce heartburn symptoms at night:
- Avoid late night carbonated drinks. Soft drinks and other carbonated beverages have high levels of acidity and can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn at night once you take the horizontal position.
- Use sleep aids with caution. Always follow your doctor’s recommendation on prescription medicine but be mindful that some sleep aids containing benzodiazepines may encourage a relaxation of the LES, which can lead to symptoms of heartburn.
- If you smoke, STOP! It has been suggested that nicotine, found in cigarettes, chewing tobacco, nicotine gum and patches, causes the LES to relax therefore preventing the muscle from keeping stomach acids where they belong. Smoking can also decrease your production of saliva, which can be helpful in offsetting any refluxed acid. Finally, a smoker’s cough can increase abdominal pressure sending acid upward into the esophagus.
- Reduce alcohol intake in the evening. Alcohol too can relax the LES making it easier for contents of the stomach to escape into the esophagus. Alcohol also increases the production of acid in the stomach adding fuel to the fire. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation or injury to the stomach and esophagus making a person much more vulnerable to heartburn.
- Avoid or limit foods that trigger heartburn in the evening. Fatty or fried foods, spicy foods, tomato-based dishes, chocolate, citrus fruit, garlic and onions are all foods that have a suggested link to triggering heartburn symptoms. Be mindful of your diet and identify which foods tend to cause you discomfort in an effort to avoid them in the evening.
- Watch your weight. Even a few extra pounds can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn. The exact relation between weight and heartburn is yet to be confirmed but many suggest the excess fat in the abdomen causes increased pressure on the stomach potentially causing stomach acids and food in process of digestion to be pushed back up into the esophagus.
If you have persistent heartburn talk with your doctor about your options. To learn more about acid reflux and your options for treatment with the specialized surgeons at Premier Surgical Associates, visit our website.