Nothing puts puts a damper on a nice meal like heartburn. If you have acid reflux, the pleasure of eating can quickly turn into a nightmare. Fortunately, you aren't doomed to a life of discomfort. Simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can help you get a handle on acid reflux symptoms. Consult your doctor for specific recommendations or if your condition worsens.
Acid reflux is an abbreviated name for gastroesophogeal reflux disease, or GERD. According to the Mayo Clinic, GERD is a chronic condition caused by a backflow of stomach acid into your esophagus. The acid irritates the lining of the esophagus, causing uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, chest pain and dry cough. Most people have an occasional bout of reflux, but if it happens more than twice a week, doctors call it GERD. If left untreated, GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus, causing a narrowing of the esophagus or an open wound.
A weakened or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter causes GERD. The lower esophageal sphincter is a circular band at the bottom of the esophagus. When you swallow, this band relaxes, allowing fluids and foods to move down into the stomach. Certain conditions increase your risk of GERD. These include obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, diabetes and scleroderma, a connective tissue disorder. Some medications can also bring on GERD, the MedlinePlus website explains. For example, bronchodilators for asthma, sedatives for anxiety, tricyclic antidepressants and calcium blockers for blood pressure may exacerbate acid reflux.
Management of acid reflux hinges on the avoidance of beverages and foods that trigger symptoms. Each person has their own specific trigger foods, although there are some foods commonly known to cause GERD. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee, and carbonated drinks may cause reflux. Fried and fatty foods, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomato sauces, peppermint and spearmint can also usual suspects, the Harvard Medical School reports. Protein foods, like meat, chicken, fish and dried beans, are not necessarily problematic unless they are high in fat. Avoid fatty cuts of meats like ribs, rib-eye or T-bone steaks and ground beef with more than 10 percent fat. Also steer clear of chicken or turkey skin, bacon and high-fat processed meats like hot dogs. Your body will let you know what foods are problematic.
Besides avoiding specific food choices, the Harvard Medical School recommends other lifestyle interventions to help you manage GERD. If you are overweight, consider losing some pounds. Excess weight puts pressure on the abdomen, which pushes up the stomach and causes acid to back up into the esophagus. Also avoid tight-fitting clothes around your waist, which put added pressure on your abdomen. Avoid large meals. Getting up and moving around after eating a meal also helps. Wait at least two to three hours before lying down or going to bed. Elevate the head of your bed or sleep on a large wedge-shaped pillow to help alleviate symptoms at night. If you smoke, stop. Smoking impairs the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to function properly.
Medications are also a common option in the treatment of GERD. Over-the-counter treatments include antacids that increase the pH of your stomach acid and medications that reduce or block the production of acid in your stomach, allowing time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal. Your doctor can prescribe stronger medications or even surgery if other treatments fail to improve your condition.
This article is informational only and not meant to provide medical advice.