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  • Writer's pictureSamir Patel, M.D.

Is it holiday heartburn or a serious health issue?

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From cookie tours to feasts of fishes, do you have heartburn from holiday dishes?

I love hearing about family recipes and traditions from patients we see in the AtlantiCare Health Park Hammonton Campus.

This time of year, even the most health-conscious of us might find ourselves overindulging when it comes to food and beverages.

Holiday eating habits can cause side effects—from heartburn to sleepiness.

The way you feel after a holiday meal can be quite telling. You might have heard that tryptophan causes that in-need-of-a-nap feeling after a turkey dinner. When you eat past your body’s point of “fullness,” your body has to work harder to digest all that food, especially when it has to process rich fats. It’s the hard work of the stomach, intestines, gallbladder and heart that makes you tired. If a good night’s sleep or a nap don’t help rally you, talk with your healthcare provider to see if there’s an underlying cause of your tiredness.

Studies show a person’s risk of heart attack can increase within several hours of eating a large meal. This can be due to the extra work your heart does to digest your food. The hard work the gallbladder puts into digesting fatty foods can also cause a gallstone attack, which can be extremely painful and feel like a heart attack. Don’t dismiss certain pain as just indigestion, gas, or a full stomach. If you feel any unusual discomfort or pain after a meal, seek medical attention. Dial 9-1-1 immediately for heart attack symptoms, including:

• Chest pain or discomfort—most often occurring in the center or left side of the chest and lasting for a few minutes or dissipating then returning

• Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint—possibly coupled with breaking out into a cold sweat

• Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back

• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders

• Shortness of breath—often accompanying chest discomfort

Is “holiday heartburn” your first experience with heartburn? Are you regularly taking antacids and not getting relief? If so, you might be experiencing more than just occasional heartburn.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of acid reflux defined by a chronic backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, resulting in frequent heartburn.

Treating GERD appropriately and timely can prevent physical complications, including difficulty swallowing, asthma-like symptoms, chronic cough and changes in the lining of the esophagus that could lead to esophageal cancer. Because we’ve seen an increase in GERD, AtlantiCare Physician Group Surgical Services recently began offering a specialized heartburn program.

Those who suffer from heartburn often have an underlying hiatal hernia that causes their symptom. We can treat this with a minimally invasive surgical procedure. An abnormality that prevents the esophagus from relaxing properly could also cause heartburn. Diet, stress, obesity, certain medications and other factors can cause heartburn. It’s so important to get a timely diagnosis and the right treatment for heartburn.

Know your risk factors GERD. They include smoking; being overweight; consuming alcohol, caffeinated or carbonated beverages or spicy, sugary, acidic or fried foods; doing heavy lifting on the job, at home or in the gym; eating quickly; eating large meals before bedtime; and experiencing stress.

Many people think or have been told they can’t get help and they have to give up foods they love forever. If you are on medication and still suffering, the AtlantiCare team is here to help.

Being on heartburn medication that does not provide full symptom relief—or that causes unpleasant side effects—might mean you are a candidate for surgery.

Having extra pizzelles, pepperoni, provolone or tomato pie won’t cause GERD. Continuing these holiday eating habits could.

Learn more about GERD and AtlantiCare’s surgical services and heartburn program, visit or call 1 (888) 569-1000.

Samir Patel, M.D. is an AtlantiCare Physician Group Surgeon.


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