Holiday heartburn – Managing acid reflux this Christmas

Ham and turkey, salmon and salads, crackers and chocolates, beer and wine – and heartburn. The holiday season is built around delicious, indulgent food and drink. Unfortunately, for acid reflux sufferers these can trigger seriously painful symptoms. The good news is, there are ways to avoid a miserable Christmas.

Understanding acid reflux

Reflux, or heartburn, is a burning sensation in the upper chest and throat. Many people get it occasionally after eating spicy or rich foods, while others have recurrent episodes.

The burning is caused by stomach acid rising into the oesophagus. Certain foods can be a cause, or there can be underlying medical issues that weaken the oesophagus and let acid escape the stomach. These include weight issues, food allergies, reactions to certain medications, peptic ulcers, bacterial infections in the stomach, and hiatal hernias – which cause a portion of the stomach to protrude into the oesophagus.

Heartburn isn’t just painful. Left untreated, long-term acid exposure can cause serious damage to the oesophagus and even increase the risk of oesophageal cancer.

Tasty triggers

The bad news is, most of the foods that trigger episodes of acid reflux are delicious. Culprits include fatty and fried foods, acidic fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, citrus and strawberries, pepper, mustard and other spicy foods, cured meat products like ham and salami, plus coffee, tea and alcohol.

Large portion sizes can cause problems, as an over-full stomach can push acid upwards into the oesophagus. Stress and exhaustion can also aggravate the condition.

With rich food, alcohol, large portions and stress characterising the holiday for many, it’s no wonder Christmas is the peak season for acid reflux episodes.

Short-term treatment, long-term management

Treating acid reflux all depends on what’s causing the problem. If you suffer from frequent bouts of heartburn, it’s important to visit your doctor, who’ll be able to examine your oesophagus, order other tests, and work out the underlying issues.

If your heartburn turns out to be caused by ulcers or a bacterial infection, your doctor will likely prescribe short-term medication to resolve the issue. Hopefully, you’ll recover fully and solve the problem altogether.

For people with other health issues, doctors will often recommend lifestyle changes first. This could mean losing weight, avoiding trigger foods and alcohol, giving up smoking, stress-reduction techniques, and changes to eating and sleeping habits. You can also take antacid medications to ease symptoms, although these won’t help with damage to the oesophagus.

If lifestyle changes don’t work, your doctor may prescribe medication. This could be an H2 blocker or a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). These inhibit or prevent the production of acid in the stomach, relieving symptoms and giving your oesophagus a chance to heal. As a last resort, surgery can strengthen the oesophageal sphincter.

Staying on top of your reflux

The holiday season may be risky for reflux sufferers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. You just need to be prepared – you definitely don’t want to run out of your medication when you’re away on holiday or everything is shut.

That’s where ZOOM Pharmacy comes in. They deliver prescription medicines to your door, before you run out.

Just send your prescription to ZOOM – you can do it via your patient portal, or simply ask your medical centre to fax it through to ZOOM. If you have a prescription on you already, you can FreePost it.

Even better, ZOOM delivers across New Zealand, so if you run out of meds at the bach or away from home, update your delivery address and they’ll be there in two days. It’s the easiest way to make sure you have a happy, pain-free holiday.

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