It has several names—acid reflux disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastro reflux disease—but those who suffer from it can all agree on at least one word to describe it: frustrating. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition in which the stomach regurgitates liquid back up into the esophagus. The regurgitated liquid contains stomach acids that can cause pain, heartburn and potentially damage the lining of the esophagus. For GERD sufferers, every meal has to the potential to trigger the disease’s uncomfortable symptoms.
The bad news is that GERD is a chronic condition, one that most sufferers must cope with for their entire lives. The good news, however, is that GERD can be controlled in many, if not most, cases. A few basic lifestyle modifications, such as watching your diet and quitting smoking, can make GERD manageable and prevent future occurrences. And with the prescription medications and surgical options available today, there is hope for those suffering from even the most severe cases.
Common Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Excessive burping
- Pain when swallowing
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Bad breath or sour taste in mouth
An apple a day keeps the acid reflux away.
Reduce acid build-up by eating a slice of an apple (the sweet, red apples are best) before meals or at the onslaught of your GERD symptoms. Eating an apple before bed can also help prevent nighttime GERD flare-ups.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes Can Treat GERD
Avoid foods and beverages that trigger heartburn. Do you find your heartburn is worse after eating a burrito or greasy pizza? That’s because spicy and fatty foods often trigger heartburn and other GERD symptoms. Other common problem foods include citrus fruits, tomatoes, mint, chocolate and onions. Beverages are also a known culprit, especially alcohol, caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, and carbonated drinks. Pay close to attention to the foods you eat and make note of what you’ve consumed on days when your GERD acts up. Many sufferers can prevent GERD flare-ups just by avoiding aggravating foods and beverages.
Change your sleep position. If heartburn is keeping you up at night, try changing the way you sleep. It is ideal to sleep on your left side, with your upper body and head elevated 6 to 8 inches. Sleeping flat on your back causes additional pressure on your stomach, while sleeping on your side with your head elevated can help prevent acid from refluxing. Experts have also found that sleeping on the right side can cause the muscles that prevent reflux to relax, so it is preferable to keep those muscles tight by sleeping on your left side.
Lose weight. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to be diagnosed with GERD than those of a healthy weight. The reason is that those extra pounds put additional pressure on the stomach, which increases reflux and heartburn. Most GERD patients who shed some of their excess weight report a major reduction in instances of heartburn, and they typically notice a difference after losing just a few pounds. Try altering your diet, eating less and exercising more. If you still have difficulty losing weight, ask a doctor or nutritionist to develop a weight-loss plan for you.
Eat smaller meals and avoid eating before bed.Consuming large meals increases acid production, which in turns causes more acid reflux and heartburn. Eat smaller meals to keep your stomach’s acid production under control. You should also eat slowly—eating too quickly can lead to bloating and other uncomfortable digestion problems. GERD symptoms are often worse at bedtime, so try to avoid eating within three hours of going to sleep.
Quit smoking. Smoking exacerbates GERD because it increases the amount of acid produced by the stomach and weakens the muscles that keep the acids down. In addition, smoking can cause further irritation to the esophagus. The numerous health benefits of going smoke-free are well-documented, and among them is a reduction in problems associated with GERD.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux Disease (GERD)
Apple cider vinegar. Stir 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into 1 cup of water. Drink this mixture two times a day, ideally after breakfast and before going to sleep at night, to promote smooth digestion.
Baking soda. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 3 ounces of water. Wait until the baking soda is fully dissolved before drinking the mixture. The baking soda will likely cause you to burp, but it will help relieve the pressure caused by acid reflux disease.
Chamomile tea. Steep a bag of chamomile tea in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to minutes to allow the herbs to be properly released into the water. Drink up to four glasses a day for maximum relief. If using fresh or dried chamomile, mix 3 teaspoons of the herb into 1 cup of water.
Ways to Treat GERD Medically
Most doctors recommend GERD sufferers attempt lifestyle modifications before receiving medical treatment. However, if you are still experiencing severe GERD symptoms more than twice a week despite changes to your diet and lifestyle, medical intervention may be necessary. If that is the case, there are two options: medication and surgery.
Over-the-counter medications can help, but don’t overdo it. Antacids, which are available over the counter just about anywhere, can provide short-term relief for GERD sufferers by neutralizing the stomach acids. However, overuse of antacids can ultimately make GERD worse and cause side effects like constipation, bloating and diarrhea. If you find yourself constantly reaching for your stash of antacids for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
There are several prescription medications that treat GERD. Chances are you’ve seen television ads for at least one of the numerous GERD and heartburn medications currently on the market. There are two main types of medications that doctors prescribe to treat GERD: histamine-2 (H2) blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). H2 blockers, such as Zantac, Pepcid and Axid, are successful at treating heartburn and reflux, but they are less effective at treating inflammation in the esophagus that can be caused by GERD. PPIs, such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec, block acid for longer periods of time than H2 blockers and promote the healing of inflammation.
Surgery is an option for the only most severe cases of GERD. If lifestyle changes and medication have failed to bring your GERD to a manageable level—or if GERD is causing additional medical problems—you might want to consider surgery. There are a few different types of surgery available for GERD sufferers, some of which are minimally invasive. The type of surgery varies from patient to patient, depending on the cause and severity of each person’s condition, as well as his medical history. Your doctor should be able to give you information about surgical options and determine which one is right for you.