Do you experience a burning sensation in the center of your chest after drinking coffee or having a spice meal? Most people encounter episodes of heartburn at some point during their lives, but is it more likely to occur during menopause? Here’s what researchers and sufferers alike say about menopause and heartburn.
What is heartburn?
First of all, heartburn is typically a symptom of various conditions, including pregnancy, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and menopause. Symptoms of heartburn can include a burning sensation in your chest, a sour or bitter taste in the back of your throat, chest pain when you lay down or bend over, and trouble swallowing. Heartburn can last for a few minutes or up to several hours, and it can be mild to severe.
Heartburn occurs when the esophagus, which transports food from your mouth to your stomach, is exposed to the acidic digestive mixture that escapes from your stomach. A valve at the bottom of the esophagus, called the esophageal sphincter, doesn’t close correctly and allows the stomach mixture to enter the esophagus. This is called reflux, which is the cause of the burning sensation.
We often think of spicy foods as a trigger for heartburn, but others are also involved, such as citrus, caffeine, onions, tomatoes and tomato products, and alcohol. Heartburn also has been associated with high stress, eating close to bedtime, being overweight, smoking, and consuming large amounts of food.
How is heartburn associated with menopause?
Although it’s not entirely clear, experts have said that the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels associated with perimenopause and menopause has an impact on digestion. One explanation is that as estrogen levels decline, the stress hormone cortisol rises, which can disturb digestion. Research has shown that taking hormone replacement therapy that involves estrogen alone may be linked with indigestion. One study reported that women in postmenopause who took over-the-counter hormonal preparations or estrogen had an increased risk of symptoms of GERD. This indicates hormones have a role in GERD and heartburn in women.
How can you treat heartburn naturally?
Many people think they need to take over-the-counter or prescription medications to quell heartburn symptoms. However, the good news there are many effective natural remedies and lifestyle changes to try.
Skip the culprits. One obvious remedy is to avoid foods that can trigger heartburn. Keep track of which foods set off the burning sensation, since not everyone is sensitive to the same trigger foods and beverages.
Get bitter. Certain herbs and roots contain bitter compounds that have a long history of use as digestive aids. Bitters stimulate bitter taste receptors on the tongue, which in turn message the brain to connect with the digestive system and release digestive enzymes. They can be taken before or after a meal: stir 1 to 3 tablespoons into 8 ounces of water.
Lose excess pounds. Being overweight can stoke heartburn. Drop extra pounds and you’ll be less likely to experience the heat.
Sleep on your side. That’s your left side, by the way. Lying on your left side helps remove acid from your stomach and esophagus.
Get elevated. Use bed risers or other sturdy objects to raise the head of your bed about 6 inches. This helps keep your head and chest higher than your feet and thus helps with heartburn.
Go herbal. You can drink ginger tea or try ginger supplements to help ease heartburn symptoms. Chamomile tea also may reduce symptoms. Another natural favorite is licorice, which may help resist the effects of stomach acid by boosting the mucous coating of the esophagus. Aloe vera juice is a great tummy soother. A few other herbal remedies reported to be helpful but lacking much scientific evidence include marshmallow, fennel, catnip, and papaya.
When to see your doctor
If episodes of heartburn are frequent and severe, you should contact your healthcare provider. This is an indication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which in turn can result in Barrett’s esophagus, esophagitis, or cancer. After explaining your symptoms, your doctor may suggest an endoscopy to explore for underlying medical conditions for your heartburn. You should also contact your healthcare provider if it hurts to swallow, your heartburn symptoms cause you to vomit, or if you experience severe wheezing or hoarseness.
Heartburn is a common symptom for women who are going through perimenopause and menopause. You can get relief from this uncomfortable and even painful condition by following some easy lifestyle and dietary guidelines.