A diagram shows a healthy esophagus and stomach, and how the spincter is open and allows acid to leak back into the esophagus from the stomach.
This diagram shows a healthy esophagus and stomach on the left. On the right, acid is leaking into the esophagus from the stomach. This leads to heartburn, and over time, may cause gastroesophageal reflux disease. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There’s nothing fun about gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Symptoms include persistent heartburn, acid regurgitation, sore throat, hoarseness or trouble swallowing. Not only is it uncomfortable, it can also lead to esophageal damage.

You can take control of your GERD symptoms, however, if you follow these tips from gastroenterologist Randall Meisner, MD.

Tip #1 Eat. Wait. Sleep.

“It’s important to avoid late-night eating,” Dr. Meisner said. “Forget your grandma’s advice about eating a bowl of cereal before bedtime to settle your stomach. It’s wrong.”

Instead, he recommends you finish all food and drinks at least three hours before lying down to allow enough time for digestion.

Tip #2: Size matters

“Some people can reduce their GERD symptoms by reducing their girth,” said Dr. Meisner, noting the importance of keeping your weight down.

Why? Having a big abdomen puts pressure on your stomach, which pushes acid into your esophagus.

Tip #3: Heads up

Many people find it helps to elevate the head of their bed 6-8 inches with bricks or boards, Dr. Meisner said. Sleeping on your left side may also help. (Need help remembering which side to sleep on? Remind yourself: “Right is wrong.”)

Tip #4: You are what you eat (and drink)

Almost one in five GERD sufferers find relief after changing their eating habits. Dr. Meisner suggests avoiding common troublemakers to see if it helps. They include:

  • Strong-flavored foods. Chocolate, peppermint, onions and garlic are among the worst offenders. Also spicy foods, citrus (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes) and tomatoes cause problems for some people.
  • Acidic beverages. Coffee, red wine, cola, citrus drinks (orange juice, lemonade) and, of course, alcohol.
  • Filling up. Try to avoid high-fat meals. In fact, it may help to eat frequent, smaller meals because having less in your stomach lets it empty more quickly.
  • Smoking. Smoking relaxes your esophagus, which allows acid to enter. Plus you already know it’s bad for you.
  • Certain medications. Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen may trigger acid reflux. In addition, some muscle relaxants and blood pressure drugs may cause problems.

If all else fails, try a prescription … or surgery

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend drugs for GERD relief. Some, like antacids and H2 blockers, neutralize or reduce stomach acid for quick relief. If you have a damaged or inflamed esophagus, however, relief could take a few weeks and may require stronger medications, like proton pump inhibitors, commonly called PPIs.

If all else fails, a surgical procedure called fundoplication may help keep the esophagus in proper position and prevent reflux.

Be sure to check with a gastroenterologist if your symptoms worsen or if you need help managing your GERD symptoms.

“Even a bad taste in the mouth or trouble swallowing may be caused by GERD,” Dr. Meisner said. “And it’s especially important to see a doctor if you have a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.”