More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn or GERD symptoms at least once a month. To help treat and prevent GERD, take action by following these simple steps.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also know as GERD, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn’t close properly. This causes stomach acid used for digestion to back up, or reflux into the lower esophagus. When stomach acid comes in contact with the lining of the esophagus, it can cause heartburn, among other symptoms.
To help treat and prevent GERD, try these 10 easy steps:
1. Check Your Symptoms
If you experience heartburn two or more times a week, you probably have GERD. Classic symptoms include a sour taste in the mouth, burning in the throat. stomach acid rising, chest pain and burping.
Other more “silent” symptoms of acid reflux or GERD include trouble swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness and the sensation of a lump in your throat. Many people with these symptoms of silent reflux never experience classic symptoms.
To determine for sure if you have GERD, see your doctor. Left untreated, GERD can lead to more severe health conditions, including esophageal cancer.
2. Watch What You Eat
Diet plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of GERD.
Foods that can trigger GERD:
- Fatty or fried foods
- Coffee, tea and alcohol
- Spicy foods
- Oranges and other citrus fruits
- Carbonated beverages
Foods that help prevent GERD:
- Leafy greens
3. Watch How You Eat
To keep GERD at bay, follow a low-fat diet comprised mainly of whole foods such as fish, poultry, fresh vegetables and grains. Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day and stop eating before you get too full. Avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
4. Stamp Out Cigarettes
Besides its many harmful effects, cigarette smoking increases your chances of developing GERD. First, smoking slows the production of saliva, which contains important acid-reducing chemicals that protect the esophagus. Smoking also stimulates the production of stomach acid and can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. Try Dr. Oz's cessation plan.
5. Cut Down on Alcohol and Caffeinated Beverages
Both alcohol and caffeinated beverages can increase acid production in the stomach. Limit yourself to 1 to 2 cups of coffee or tea a day, and if you do drink alcohol, drink in moderation – that’s 2 drinks a day for men and 1 for women. If you suffer from chronic GERD, you may want to cut out these beverages all together.
Drink plenty of water – at least 6 to 8 cups a day – to help neutralize and rinse out stomach acid that has refluxed into the esophagus.
6. Fight GERD in Your Sleep
If you experience symptoms of GERD during sleeping hours, try elevating the head of your bed by at least 6 inches. This can be done by placing wood or cement blocks under the feet of the bed, or by inserting a wedge between the mattress and the box spring. Just adding more pillows will not work, because you need to raise your head higher than your stomach. It may be awkward sleeping this way at first, but it will help keep stomach acid from rising.
8. Trim Your Waistline
Research shows that the more excess weight you carry, the more likely you are to suffer from GERD. Belly fat, also know as omentum fat, puts pressure on the stomach, causing fluids to rise up. If you are overweight, losing even 5-10 pounds can reduce your chance of developing GERD.
9. Consider Acid-Blocking Medications
For occasional heartburn or GERD, you may find temporary relief by taking antacids, However, persistent GERD often requires another class of over-the-counter or prescription medications such as PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) or H2 blockers (acid antihistamine medications). Talk to your doctor to determine which treatment course is right for you.
10. Don’t Ignore GERD
If GERD persists, despite lifestyle changes and the use of OTC meds, see your doctor who may refer you to a gastroenterologist. Left untreated, GERD can develop into serious health problems, including esophagitis, esophageal bleeding, Barrett's esophagus and an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
A specialist may carry out an esophagoscopy, a screening procedure that involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end of it down the esophagus. This test requires no sedation. In severe cases of GERD, a surgeon can tighten a loose muscle between the stomach and esophagus to inhibit the upward flow of acid.