Unlike many other medical conditions, gastroesophageal reflux disease is almost completely preventable.
Most of us have suffered with the occasional bout of heartburn (also called acid indigestion). It’s that burning chest pain that begins behind the breastbone and moves up to the neck and throat. It happens when acids in the stomach back up into the esophagus and burn the lining.
“If you’re having heartburn or acid reflux more than twice a week for a few weeks, however, it could be GERD,” said Praveen Sateesh, MD, a gastroenterologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group. “GERD is a more serious and longer-lasting condition.
Over time, GERD can permanently damage the esophageal lining and lead to even more serious conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.
“There are a number of different lifestyle modifications you can try to help calm the burn, or hopefully avoid it altogether,” Dr. Sateesh said. “But it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. What works for one person may not work for someone else. Keep trying, and find what works for you.”
1. Lose weight
Obesity is the leading cause of GERD. Lose weight if you’re overweight and don’t gain weight if you’re not.
2. Avoid foods known to cause reflux
Place these foods on your ‘do not eat’ list (or at least, ‘eat in moderation’, if you’re willing to take your chances):
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus
- Coffee or any caffeinated beverage
- Carbonated beverages
3. Eat smaller meals
Large meals fill the stomach and put pressure on the area where the stomach and esophagus join together. This pressure makes reflux more likely. Smaller, more frequent meals are better.
4. Don’t lie down after eating
Gravity normally helps keep stomach acid where it belongs: down in your stomach. So wait at least three hours before you lie down after a meal and be sure to eat early to give your stomach time to empty before bedtime.
5. Elevate the head of your bed
Stomach acid, like water, does not roll uphill. Raising the head of your bed six to eight inches can help gravity keep gastric acid down in your stomach. Or, you can use a wedge-shaped support to elevate your head and upper chest. Don’t use extra pillows, as they only raise your head and will not help with GERD.
6. Review your medications
There are a number of medications that can affect your digestive system and increase your risk of GERD. These include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Calcium channel blockers (often used to treat high blood pressure)
- Certain asthma medications, including albuterol
- Anticholinergics (used to treat conditions such as seasonal allergies and glaucoma)
- Bisphosphonates (used to boost bone density)
- Sedatives and painkillers
- Some antibiotics
- Iron tablets
If you’re taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor about switching to another drug that does not have the same effect on the upper digestive tract. Don’t, however, stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.
7. Stop smoking
Some studies have found that nicotine can relax the muscles that keep the esophagus closed off from the stomach and can also interfere with your saliva’s ability to clear acid out of the esophagus.
8. Cut back on alcohol
As with smoking, alcohol can cause these same muscles to relax. Alcohol can also cause the esophageal muscles to spasm.
9. Wear loose-fitting clothes
Don’t wear tight clothing or belts that can constrict your stomach. Yes, this is permission to wear yoga and sweat pants!
10. Take an antacid
Antacids neutralize stomach acid before it backs up into the esophagus.
“If, after trying the above tips, you’re still experiencing GERD, see your doctor or a gastroenterologist for further evaluation,” Dr.Sateesh said. “There are several effective medications you can take to ease the symptoms of GERD.”