Heartburn is often felt after eating spicy or fried foods, and almost everyone experiences it from time to time. But if you find yourself reaching for the Tums after every day, it may be time to take a closer look.

Chronic heartburn—which can include belching, nausea, bloating and a burning sensation in the chest and chronic cough—can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux syndrome (GERD), a condition in which the sphincter in the lower esophagus relaxes enough so that some food and stomach acid move back into the esophagus.

Causes of GERD include genetics, smoking, overeating, pregnancy and obesity. Some medications may also bring it on. There is also a strong correlation between GERD and unexplained asthma; up to 25 percent of cases of unexplained asthma—asthma that doesn’t directly correlate to allergies or other common symptoms—are believed to be caused by acid in the airway.

Managing chronic heartburn can be as simple as making some lifestyle and dietary adjustments:

  • Lose weight. Extra pounds can bring on and make heartburn worse.
  • Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals.
  • Cut back on alcohol.
  • Avoid spicy, fatty and fried foods, or coffee, peppermint and chocolate, if any of these make symptoms worse.
  • Cut back on fluids with meals.
  • Chew gum after meals to stimulate saliva production, which is a good buffer to stomach acid.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Tight pants and belts put pressure on the stomach.

— University of California Wellness Letter

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