How to avoid Thanksgiving indigestion

Thanksgiving is a day full of family and great food. Unfortunately many of us face heartburn and indigestion as a result. Trusted Chief Medical Officer, Scott J. Jones, MD, ABEM offers advice on how to have a happy Thanksgiving and a happy stomach.

The house smells delicious and your family and friends are all gathered together at Grand Ma’s house for the annual Thanksgiving Feast! There is food galore! There’s turkey, gravy, desserts, and all the fixin’s from Aunt Jane and plenty of wine from Uncle Mike. Obviously, you are looking forward to a great day, but you are a bit apprehensive of what the night might bring? Recently, you have had a few episodes of heartburn and want to avoid getting it today. If you do get it, you want to be prepared with treatment options so you are not awake all night with chest pain.

Indigestion or “heart burn” is pain caused by stomach acid flowing back and up into the esophagus. The formal medical name is GERD or Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease.

What is GERD?

When you swallow, the muscles at the bottom of your esophagus relax allowing the passage of food and liquids into the stomach. This group of muscles in called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter or LES. If the LES relaxes abnormally or is weakened, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus causing a burning pain, i.e. heart burn.

What things can increase your risk of getting indigestion?

Smoking, eating large meals, eating late at night, fatty foods, fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, and coffee can all make the LES not function properly and increase your risk of experiencing heartburn. Eating smaller portions and waiting 4 or more hours before going to bed after a meal is easy to do. Not smoking or drinking are choices that you can make as well. Knowing the risk factors helps you make an informed decision as to what foods or activities you want to enjoy even if heartburn later is a risk.

What if I experience Heartburn? What can I do to decrease the symptoms?

Antacids like Tums or Mylanta help neutralize the stomach acid. Over the counter medications that block histamine receptors (Pepcid) or block the protein pump (Prilosec); both decrease the stomach’s production of gastric acid. If you have symptoms when you lie down, elevating the head of your bed 6 inches can help as well.

Armed with this information you decide to skip Uncle Mikes wine and the after-dinner cigar. By eating small amounts of your favorite Thanksgiving foods, while also avoiding the fried pie dessert, you are now able to enjoy the post meal football games without the discomfort of indigestion. However just to be safe, it’s wise take some Mylanta before bed and enjoy a peaceful, pain free Thanksgiving night slumber!!