Gastroesphageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious and long-term form of heartburn that affects an estimated 7 million people in the United States each year. The number of people with GERD jumped 216% between 1998 and 2005. GERD causes acidic and non-acidic stomach contents to backflow up the esophagus and overrides your body’s natural barriers to keep the acid where it belongs. As a result, you may experience any variety of symptoms that include:
· Chest pain
· Difficulty swallowing
· Sore throat
· Dental erosion and bad breath
Not every patient who suffers from GERD will have a clear set of symptoms and many people may have the condition without knowing until complications develop. To determine the cause of your symptoms, your doctor may do tests or prescribe medications to control stomach acids for a short time—usually a week or two—to see if you improve. Once GERD is diagnosed, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life:
1. Lose weight. Medical experts say that excess abdominal fat puts pressure on the esophagus and pushes stomach acids up where they don’t belong. The best remedy is to drop the extra weight and don’t gain weight if you are in a healthy range now.
2. Eat more frequent, smaller meals. Consuming a large plate of food and lots of liquids at a meal will fill your stomach and put pressure on the group of muscles in your esophagus that keep your stomach acids in. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to reduce pressure and GERD symptoms.
3. Let gravity help. Try not to lay down after a meal. If you do need to lay down, consider using an acid reflux pillow so that you aren’t totally flat. This helps position your body to keep the acid in your stomach.
4. Stop smoking. Some studies have found that nicotine in tobacco products may cause the muscles of the esophagus that hold acid down to relax—allowing stomach contents to roam free. Tobacco may also reduce the amount of saliva you produce that helps wash acids back down where they belong.
5. Try a gluten free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats and some studies have found that eliminating gluten from your diet may help reduce GERD symptoms.
6. Evaluate your other medications. Some medicines may irritate your esophagus further, relax the muscles of the esophagus, or cause problems with your body’s natural digestive processes. Some of these medications include calcium channel blockers (for high blood pressure), iron tablets, potassium, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and others. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about your medications if you aren’t sure.
7. Avoid trigger foods. You may already know what foods make your GERD worse, so do your best to avoid these. If you haven’t made a connection between what you eat and your symptoms, try staying away from fatty or acidic food, spicy meals, mint, coffee or caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages, onions and chocolate.
Remember to see your doctor if you develop new or worsening symptoms and before you try any at-home treatments. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for managing your symptoms and use a combination of lifestyle changes that work for you.