Keeping a Heartburn Journal

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, causes painful symptoms (like heartburn and acid regurgitation) that usually occur after meals. An exact cause of GERD hasn’t been pinpointed, but certain foods and lifestyle habits seem to trigger GERD symptoms in many people suffering from this condition.

To complicate matters even more, every person suffering from GERD has a different list of foods and habits that trigger their symptoms.

That’s why it's wise to keep a heartburn journal to find your own specific triggers. Here’s how to get started.

Set a timeline. Decide how long you plan to record your observations in your journal. Two to four weeks should be ample time for you to notice patterns. 

Take notes. Each time you experience a bout of heartburn, note symptoms, timing, foods you ate and other activities:
  • Recognize your symptoms. Record and describe the symptoms you experience, such as: heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, coughing, sore throat, or particles of food coming back up. Also try to rate the intensity of these symptoms, such as mild, moderate or severe.
  • Watch the clock. Note the time that your symptoms occurred—when they started and how long they lasted. Look for patterns, like whether or not you are more prone to heartburn in the morning or in the evening. If this is the case, you might try to avoid trigger foods at this specific time.
  • Log your foods. This is very important step. Consider not only what you ate just prior to experiencing symptoms, but what you ate earlier as well. Certain foods seem to increase the incidence of GERD symptoms by weakening the lower esophageal sphincter, lessening its ability to keep stomach contents in the stomach. Look for patterns and begin limiting or avoiding the foods that seem to trigger your symptoms. Watch out for these common triggers:

    Alcohol, butter or margarine, caffeine-containing foods and beverages, carbonated beverages, chocolate and cocoa, citrus fruits and citrus juices, coffee (regular and decaf), cream-based sauces, fatty meats, fried foods, garlic, gravy, high-fat foods, mint flavors, nuts and nut butters (including peanut butter), oils, onions, pastries, pepper, peppermint, salad dressings, spearmint, spicy foods, tomatoes and tomato products, and vinegar.
  • Consider other habits. Other behaviors can make a difference too. Did you eat on the run, or eat and then run soon after? The following habits can all trigger symptoms: consuming large meals; eating too quickly; lying down soon after meals; exercising too soon after meals; and wearing tight-fitting clothing or belts.
Remember that even if you are able to eliminate your GERD symptoms, it is still important to consult with your doctor. Even without symptoms, GERD can still be present and may lead to serious medical complications if left untreated.

Besides acting as a tool that will help you to modify your own behavior and symptoms, your heartburn journal is also a great way to help you communicate with your doctor as you develop a plan to battle your burn.