Cheat Sheet

Heartburn and Reflux For Dummies

From Heartburn and Reflux For Dummies by Carol Ann Rinzler, Ken DeVault

Knowing the common signs of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is your first step to recognizing if you may have a problem. To prevent heartburn and reflux, keep away from certain seasonings, foods, and other risk factors that trigger reflux. Learn key terms related to heartburn and reflux, and maintain a healthy weight and BMI to further reduce your risk.

Common Symptoms of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD is a tricky condition to identify. Its symptoms mimic those of other common medical conditions. The following list represents the primary symptoms of GERD:

  • Bad breath

  • Bad taste in mouth

  • Chronic cough

  • Chronic laryngitis

  • Frequent hoarseness

  • Frequent throat clearing

  • Frequent wheezing

Reflux-Risky Seasonings

One way to avoid reflux is to keep away from foods that may trigger it. According to the NBHA (National Heartburn Alliance), the following spices are more likely to cause heartburn than others:

  • Chili powder

  • Cloves

  • Curry powder

  • Garlic, fresh

  • Mint

  • Mustard seed

  • Nutmeg

  • Pepper — black, red (hot), white

Foods that Trigger Heartburn

What you eat and drink may raise your risk of heartburn. This list shows you some foods that are more likely to cause reflux and heartburn, so stay away from these:

  • Alcohol beverages

  • Carbonated soft drinks

  • Chocolate

  • Citrus fruits

  • Coffee (regular and decaffeinated)

  • High-fat foods

Heartburn and Reflux Key Words

To better understand things related to heartburn and reflux, recognize the following key terms that describe treatment, symptoms, and basic information about the two conditions:

  • GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease

  • Reflux: Stomach contents that slosh back from the stomach to the esophagus through the LES

  • LES: Lower esophageal sphincter; the “trapdoor” between esophagus and stomach

  • Heartburn: Pain caused by reflux

  • Gastroenterologist: Physician specializing in diseases of the digestive tract

  • Antacid: Medicine that neutralizes stomach acid

  • H2 blocker: Histamine 2 blocker; a class of drugs that slows the production of stomach acid

  • PPI: Proton pump inhibitor; a class of drugs that reduces the production of stomach acid and appears to heal reflux damage to the esophagus

How Your Weight Affects Heartburn

Carrying extra body weight, especially around your middle, raises your risk for heartburn. So how do you know if you’re at risk? A BMI (body mass index) higher than 24 is considered overweight. BMI is a gender-free measurement that relates height to weight. To find out your BMI:

BMI = (W/H2) × 705

Translation:

Your weight (in pounds)

Divided by your height (in inches, squared)

Multiplied by 705

Risk Factors for Reflux and Heartburn

Risk factors make it more likely you’ll get reflux, but it’s not a certainty. As a basic rule, the risk factors for heartburn and reflux fit neatly into one of three basic categories:

Risk Factors You Can’t Change
Your sex
Your body shape
Your family history
Risk Factors You Can Make Less Risky
Medical conditions (such as asthma) that may trigger reflux
Medicines that upset your stomach
Risk Factors You Can Eliminate
Bedtime snacking
Being stressed
Being overweight
Irritating foods and beverages
Lack of moderate exercise
Smoking
Very large meals
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