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St. Luke’s gastroenterologist advises eating and drinking in moderation over holidays


With the holiday season underway, St. Luke’s gastroenterologist Caitlyn Foley stresses the importance of eating in moderation, especially rich, acidic or spicy foods. Also, don’t overindulge in caffeine-laden, carbonated and alcoholic drinks.

Dr. Foley of St. Luke’s Gastroenterology treats all the organs of the digestive system – esophagus, stomach and intestines and biliary organs, including the liver, bile ducts, pancreas and gallbladder.

“It’s definitely hard over the holidays with all of the rich foods and events that center around eating,” said Foley, who sees patients at St. Luke’s Gastroenterology in Bethlehem, Palmerton and Jim Thorpe. “Part of why I’m a gastroenterologist is my love of food. I love to eat, so I understand that it’s hard to stick to a strong diet over the holidays. But by avoiding the GI problems that come with overeating, you can have a more enjoyable holiday season.”

When, you’re at a social event, listen to your body for signals, you’re full. Also, try not to eat heavy rich foods late in the day, close to bedtime. If you lie down with a full stomach, you’re more likely to have issues with heartburn and acid reflux.

Following a big meal, people can experience extreme pain in their stomach and chest that mimics a heart attack. Knowing whether it’s heartburn or a heart attack is difficult. Symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux are burning that starts in the stomach and goes up into the chest and liquid backflowing into the mouth. Foods that trigger these symptoms are fatty, greasy, fried, acidic or spicy. Chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are also triggers.

Sometimes people with severe heartburn think they are having a heart attack. Telling the difference between heartburn and heart attack is challenging.

“If someone has severe pain in their stomach and chest, it could be heartburn if after some time or moderate exercise, the pain lessens,” but she advises, “If symptoms get worse, are severe and other concerning symptoms co-exist, go to the ER.”

Foley often sees patients in the office after they’ve gone to the ER when they thought they were having a heart attack, only to learn it was a bad case of heartburn.

“They feel stupid for having gone,” she said. “But it’s one of the times when you can be happy that you made a mistake. I would hate to have someone medicating their heart attack with antacids. That could harm their heart and even be deadly. It’s definitely worthwhile to get things checked out. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”