Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a chronic digestive disease. It occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, bile flows back into the esophagus. The severity of GERD varies from one person to the next; while some people have a GERD attack nearly every time they eat, other people might only suffer the symptoms after eating certain foods.
Understanding GERD Attacks
Once food or liquid is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. A circular band of muscle, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, sits at the bottom of the esophagus. When food is swallowed, the sphincter opens and food can pass into the stomach. At all other times, the sphincter remains. However, when this valve becomes weak or opens sporadically, stomach acid back-flows into the esophagus and a GERD attack ensues. Common symptoms of a GERD attack include a burning sensation in the chest and throat, difficulty swallowing and dry cough.
Foods To Eat
During a GERD attack, you might wish to simply avoid food altogether. However, a small amount of certain foods or beverages can help relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of reflux. These foods and beverages include bananas, whole grain bread or crackers, ginger tea, green tea and apple cider vinegar. Sour candy and sugarless gum can also help relieve a GERD attack, since they trigger an increased production of saliva that helps neutralize stomach acid. Stay away from mint-flavored candy or gum.
Foods To Avoid
If you experience frequent episodes of acid reflux, you should avoid certain foods as often as possible. These foods include fatty foods, fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions and acidic tomato-based products, such as spaghetti sauce and salsa. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can also trigger a GERD attack. Keep in mind that GERD triggers can vary from one person to the next. Through a simple process of trial and error, you should be able to determine which foods, beverages and flavors trigger your GERD attacks most frequently.
During a GERD attack, an antacid medication can help neutralize stomach acid and provide quick symptom relief. However, frequent antacid use can result in uncomfortable digestive side effects. Your physician might also recommend a medication to limit or block the production of stomach acid. There are a variety of other tips that can help provide some relief during a GERD attack. For example, avoid wearing tight clothing around the waist or stomach and remain in an upright position for at least three hours after eating. If you frequently experience GERD attacks at night, consider propping the head of your bed 6 to 9 inches higher than the foot of your bed.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse; Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD); May 2007
- MayoClinic.com; GERD; May 2011
- Fox News; Spicy or Bland? 6 Acid Reflux Myths You Should Know; Jessica Ryen Doyle; August 2008
- Everwell: Foods That Relieve Heartburn Symptoms