Consider combining acid reducers for heartburn relief

Super Bowl parties are often synonymous with overindulging sometimes resulting in heartburn, the characteristic burning sensation that sufferers describe as rolling up into their chest. Fatty foods often play a starring role in the process.

“Most of the time heartburn is a nuisance, not a tremendous threat to your health,” says Dr. Stuart Spechler, a digestive specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s going to be a tradeoff – is the food going to taste good enough to suffer through the heartburn?”

For decades, the plop-plop-fizz-fizz approach of antacids taken after people already were experiencing heartburn was the only therapy available. Emphasis has now shifted to prevention. Those who are planning to indulge in foods likely to cause them heartburn can take a histamine receptor blocker (H2 blockers), which slow the production of stomach acid and are generally available over the counter.

“Most people suffering from heartburn get it every now and then. Those are the people who really benefit from this on-demand therapy,” says Dr. Spechler.

Antacids can help after the fact if foods consumed generate heartburn. Antacids act like a sponge to soak up the excess stomach acid, but they do nothing to prevent the stomach from creating more acid. So it may help to take some antacid tablets to soak up acid currently being produced and take an H2 receptor blocker to slow the stomach from producing further acid, Dr. Spechler says.

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Watch out for acetaminophen buildup

When seeking quick pain relief, people should not overindulge in acetaminophen as a cure-all, UT Southwestern Medical Center liver experts warn.

From Super Bowl parties to flu-season aches, many people reach for acetaminophen in its many forms – headache relief, sleep aids, cold and flu remedies, even some prescription painkillers – not realizing how quickly the medication can add up.

“It is easy to lose track of how much combined acetaminophen you're consuming when taking combinations of medicines, particularly for different ailments such as arthritis and perhaps a cold,” says Dr. William Lee, director of the Clinical Center for Liver Diseases at UT Southwestern.

Too much acetaminophen in the system at one time or over an extended period can cause serious liver damage or can lead to liver failure and even death. About 100 people die annually of accidental acetaminophen poisoning and another 15,000 end up in the emergency rooms from unknowingly taking too much. The average adult should avoid more than 4,000 milligrams total acetaminophen per day, the equivalent of eight extra strength tablets, and no more than 2,000 mg to 3,000 mg for those with liver problems like hepatitis or those who drink regularly. Also remember, Dr. Lee says, that alcohol makes acetaminophen more toxic while depleting other substances that protect against liver damage.

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Avoid bacteria during Super Bowl spreads

Super Bowl partygoers may choose to mingle first and eat later, but they may return home with an upset stomach if those foods have been sitting at improper temperatures for too long, warn nutritionists at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“To deter bacteria growth, holiday party hosts should remember the two-hour rule,” says Dr. Vickie Vaclavik, a clinical nutritionist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Foods should not sit unprotected at room temperature for more than about two hours.”

Cream-based products, eggs, meats and milk are examples of foods in party fare that naturally promote bacteria growth that cause food-borne illness.

“If these categories of foods are to be left out – either unrefrigerated or not held hot – they may become unsafe to eat. The host may use smaller, easily replaced batches, which should be discarded after a couple of hours, or the foods should be held at the right temperatures.”

Other tips include: Replacing platters for fresh food instead of adding fresh food to a dirtied dish; keeping hot foods at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, and cold foods at 40 degrees F or colder; keeping your hands, work surfaces and utensils clean.

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Nixing fat and chocolate may help curtail heartburn

Eating or drinking certain types of foods, such as milk, in an attempt to reduce stomach acid generally doesn’t work, says Dr. Stuart Spechler, a digestive specialist whose research focuses on stomach acid.

“We used to use milk as an antacid, but it’s really a very poor choice,” he says. “Most of the foods that we eat buffer acid, but they also stimulate the stomach to produce acid later. That’s why we don’t recommend them as a specific treatment.”

Avoiding foods that historically cause heartburn is the better strategy, he says. “As a group, anything fatty and anything chocolate is likely to be causing a problem,” Dr. Spechler says.

Heartburn often is caused by reflux or backwash of acid from the stomach up into the esophagus, which is the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. A valve at the end of the esophagus is supposed to function as a one-way release, relaxing to allow food into the stomach and closing back up so food and acid in the stomach stay there while the food is digested. If there is a leaky valve, you can feel heartburn.

“As a general rule of thumb anything that tastes really good is likely to give you heartburn, and the reason is the fat content.” Dr. Spechler says. “Fat does a lot of things that promote heartburn. It stops the stomach from emptying well, so now you have more material in the stomach that’s ready to reflux. It also further weakens that leaky valve.”

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Don’t let drinking wreck your socializing

The number of injuries and deaths from alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents often increases during celebrations as people leave festivities after drinking too much.

“It’s not because people are depressed; it’s just because they’re partying, and they think it’s OK to drink and drive,” says Dr. Kathleen Delaney, an emergency medicine and internal medicine physician at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s better to call a cab than to pay for a hospital bill – or a funeral.”

Legal blood-alcohol limits for a driver vary among states. Regardless, people experience coordination impairment and reduced alertness with blood alcohol levels of 0.05. A 120-pound woman reaches 0.04 after consuming one 12-ounce beer. A 160-pound man reaches 0.05 after two beers.

“Common sense says you know that you’re impaired even at those levels,” Dr. Delaney says. “If you’re going to have a few drinks and enjoy yourself, just don’t drive a vehicle. Designate a driver.”

For those who will not be driving, Dr. Delaney recommends limiting total alcohol consumption, spacing alcoholic beverages at least an hour apart and having a nonalcoholic beverage between drinks to help counteract alcohol’s dehydrating effects. Also, ensure that all drinks containing alcohol – including eggnog and punch – are out of the reach of children. Alcohol consumption can cause a child’s blood sugar to plummet, she says.

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Practice safe uncorking of the bubbly when celebrating

Exploding champagne corks may add a dramatic flair to a Super Bowl party, but they can also cause serious eye injuries such as ruptured globes, detached retinas and painful bruising.

Dr. Preston Blomquist, an ophthalmologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, recommends the following safety tips:

* Chill champagne and sparkling wine to at least 45 degrees; a cork in a cold bottle is less likely to pop unexpectedly. * Hold the cork down with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood. * Point the bottle away from people, and hold it at a 45-degree angle. * Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle, grasp the cork, and slowly and firmly twist to break the seal. Hold the bottle firmly with one hand and use the other hand to slowly turn the cork with a slight upward pull. Continue until the cork is almost out of the neck. Counter the outward force of the cork by applying slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free from the bottle.

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