Heart on Fire – for Your Love or For Your Love of Food?

HOUSTON (Feb. 10, 2009) – Your Valentine is perfect. She makes you feel special, and he makes you laugh. But your love for your partner may not be the only one that sets your heart on fire – it may be your love of food.

After all, some people have a love affair with food—it's always there and is comforting at any time of day. For some, their attraction could lead to painful heartburn, and in rare cases, potentially to serious medical problems.

“Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart,” said Dr. Larry Butcher, medical director at the Harris County Hospital District's Acres Home Health Center.

Heartburn is often described as a burning sensation in the chest, which travels up the throat. It occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus – the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

So what should you do if your Valentine's dinner gives you that not-so-loving feeling?

Butcher suggests over-the-counter antacids, which usually provide rapid, short-term relief. But heartburn can also be relieved by modifying your lifestyle.

You can reduce or eliminate heartburn by eating two to three hours before lying down, quit smoking, lose weight if overweight and don't overeat. Avoid tight clothes and belts and avoid foods that cause heartburn, such as chocolate, caffeine, tomato products and spicy foods.

While the occasional heartburn may not be serious, if a person experiences heartburn several times a week, it could be a sign of something more critical.

“Frequent heartburn can lead to esophagitis, which is the inflammation of the lining of the esophagus,” Butcher said. “If esophagitis becomes severe, it can cause narrowing of the esophagus, bleeding or trouble swallowing. It may also be a symptom of acid reflux disease.”

A person should seek medical advice if:

  • Heartburn persists despite lifestyle modifications
  • Heartburn persists more than three times a week for two weeks
  • Symptoms have become more severe or frequent
  • Weight loss accompanies heartburn
  • Experience chronic hoarseness, wheezing or worsening asthma
  • Experience pain of difficult swallowing

If a person suffers from the following, they should seek immediate medical help:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting with heartburn
  • Vomiting blood or black material
  • Experiencing chest pain, especially if accompanied by pain in the neck, jaw or arms
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Diarrhea or bloody stools

So this Valentine's Day, make sure your heart burns for all the right reasons.

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