NYACK, N.Y. -- If you tend to get heartburn, the holidays can be an especially challenging time of year. So many foods and beverages we tend to consume at holiday parties—spicy foods, greasy cocktail snacks, alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate—can lead to that burning sensation in your chest. However, according to Dr. Vipul Shah, chief of gastroenterology at Nyack Hospital, planning ahead can help you avoid heartburn during the holiday season.
“If you only get heartburn occasionally, you won’t be causing long-term damage if you splurge on fatty foods and alcohol for one evening,” Dr. Shah said. “But if you have a history of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), even one evening of overdoing it with food and drink can exacerbate symptoms and set you back on the path to healing.”
When you scan the buffet table at a holiday party, Shah recommends going easy on the following:
- Fatty meats, fried chicken and spicy foods like buffalo wings
- Chocolate, fried chips, butter cookies, brownies, doughnuts
- Tomato sauce
- Creamy sauces and salad dressings
- Liquor, wine, caffeinated beverages
If you suffer from occasional heartburn, you might want to take an over-the- counter heartburn medication, such as Pepcid or Zantac, ahead of time. “But if you have chronic heartburn, you don’t want to play around—you’re better off avoiding heartburn-causing foods altogether,” said Dr. Shah.
It's also not wise to go to bed right after eating a heavy meal. “Avoid eating anything two to three hours before bedtime,” Dr. Shah said. “Your biggest meal of the day shouldn’t be late. You don’t want to lay down with a stomach full of irritating foods.” It's also important to avoid coffee and alcohol late at night, and consider raising the head of your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your legs because that will reduce the chance of regurgitation.
Chronic heartburn, which lasts for weeks or even months at a time, can lead to esophagitis, an inflammation of the esophagus. If you have more than occasional heartburn, Shah suggests talking to your doctor. Through a combination of dietary changes, weight loss, lifestyle modifications, and—if needed—acid-suppressing medications, you can control your heartburn symptoms and avoid long-term complications.