Say no to heartburn: strategies to prevent GERD

November 21, 2018 | by Jonathan Gibson, M.D.

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid and other contents in your stomach back up into your esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When you swallow and food enters your stomach, your LES closes to prevent food from rising up. When it’s weak or damaged, your LES may not close properly, causing symptoms of acid reflux.

An unpleasant symptom of acid reflux is heartburn, or a burning sensation in the chest, usually after eating a meal. Acid reflux can also cause a dry cough, sore throat and sour taste in the mouth.

If your symptoms of acid reflux become more frequent or don’t go away, you could have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chronic GERD can lead to narrowing of the esophagus that causes food to get stuck, and changes in the esophageal cells which can lead to cancer.

Unlike many medical conditions that can’t be prevented, acid reflex and GERD symptoms can be eased with lifestyle changes. Here’s what you can do to prevent that burning feeling in your chest from continuing:

  1. Know the foods and drinks you should avoid. Steer clear of fatty or spicy foods, including chili, foods with garlic and onions, or foods with tomatoes. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages and coffee. These can increase the amount of acid in the stomach.
  2. Know the foods you can eat. Add more vegetables and lean meats into your diet, like chicken, turkey, fish and seafood. You can also try non-citrus fruits like, bananas, apples, melons and pears. These fruits are less acidic, so they are less likely to trigger symptoms of acid reflex.
  3. Eat smaller meals and sit up after your meals. Eating larger meals and lying down right after you eat can trigger symptoms of acid reflux. Wait until you’ve digested your food before you lie down.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess body weight can trigger the onset of GERD and increase its severity, because extra weight can put additional pressure on your abdomen.
  5. Quit smoking. Smoking can increase your risk for heartburn and GERD, since smoking weakens your LES. It can also cause your mouth to make less saliva, which can cause more symptoms of heartburn.
  6. Focus on relaxation techniques. According to some studies, stress can be a trigger for heartburn. If you are feeling stressed, try coping strategies like yoga, creative arts therapy, guided imagery or listening to music.
  7. Review your medications. Certain medications like antidepressants, asthma medications, sedatives or tranquilizers can weaken your LES, slow digestion and worsen inflammation.
  8. Keep a food diary. A food diary is the best way to determine what’s causing your acid reflux. Write down what you eat and drink for at least a week. When you look back at your meal and drink plan, you may be able to notice what’s triggering your symptoms.

The goal of reducing heartburn and GERD symptoms is to reduce the amount of acid that goes into your esophagus and to avoid foods that irritate your esophagus.

Talk to your doctor if you are having regular symptoms of heartburn. Your doctor can suggest a variety of tests or procedures that help determine what’s going on and how to help.

How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle? Tell us in the below comments.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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