Once the nausea of early pregnancy wanes, many women look forward to enjoying their meals again. However, around the middle of pregnancy, heartburn and indigestion may spoil the party. These discomforts can happen at any time, but are more common in the second and third trimesters. Fortunately, they're rarely serious and are easily treatable.
What are heartburn and indigestion?
Heartburn -- which actually has nothing to do with your heart -- is marked by a burning sensation after meals in your throat or in your chest behind the breastbone. It's caused by stomach acid coming in contact with the esophagus (the pipe your food travels down). A valve at the bottom of that pipe seals off the top of the stomach when you're not eating, but when valve is overly relaxed, partially digested food and stomach acid sometimes make their way back up into the esophagus, irritating its sensitive lining.
The chief symptom of heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest. You may also experience a sour taste in your mouth or the unpleasant feeling that vomit is rising in your throat.
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a general term for digestion-related pain or discomfort in the abdomen. Symptoms of indigestion include heartburn, excess gas, bloating, burping, and feeling too full after a normal meal.
Both heartburn and indigestion are common conditions during pregnancy and rarely require medical attention.
What causes heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy?
When you're expecting, the hormones coursing through your body make the muscles of the digestive system relax, which slows down digestion. The valve in your esophagus may open or leak, allowing acid from the stomach to flow upward. In addition, as your uterus grows, it pushes against the stomach, increasing pressure on the valve.
The slowdown in digestion can also cause more gas, which is the culprit in flatulence and bloating. Your stomach has less room due to your expanding uterus, and so feels fuller than normal.
How can I prevent heartburn?
Avoid eating or drinking things that encourage the valve in the esophagus to relax further. These include greasy or fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated drinks, tomato products, citrus juice, peppermint and spearmint, alcohol, onion, garlic, and spicy foods.
Here are some other tips:
If you are on medications, be sure to check whether heartburn is one of the possible side effects. Your doctor may want to adjust your treatment or dosage.
How can I prevent indigestion?
One of the best ways to minimize indigestion is to reduce the amount of gas in your body. Gas enters your system when you swallow air or forms inside your body when bacteria work on undigested food in your intestine. Although there is no way to eliminate gas altogether, here are some helpful tips to keep it in check:
When should I see a doctor?
If these prevention techniques don't work and you want to try an antacid or an anti-gas medication, speak with your doctor or midwife. Your health care provider can prescribe the medication that is best for you or help you make a safe choice of over-the-counter remedies.
What if my symptoms are really those of a heart attack?
Call 911 if you suspect that a sensation similar to heartburn could be a heart attack instead. Because both conditions can cause burning chest pain, pay careful attention to your symptoms. Signs that discomfort may indicate a heart attack, rather than just heartburn, include:
Fortunately, however, heart attacks among pregnant women are still very rare, although the rate has gone up slightly in recent years. In addition, pregnancy itself can increase a womans risk of heart attack 3- to 4- fold, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Because many symptoms of a heart attack are similar to those of common pregnancy discomforts, discuss heart attack awareness with your health care provider if you have any risk factors for heart problems. These include persistent high blood pressure, diabetes, eclampsia or preeclampsia, and getting pregnant later in life.
Armed with this toolbox of preventive tips, you should be able to indulge your food cravings without worrying about heartburn.
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