How to control and overcome acid reflux and GERD

Jun 22, 2021 | 2 comments

By Mark A. Mahoney

Acid reflux (GER) occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to back up into your esophagus. This can cause heartburn and other signs and symptoms. Frequent or constant reflux can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Definition and some facts:

What is GER?|
Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. Stomach acid that touches the lining of your esophagus can cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

Other terms used to describe GER include: acid indigestion, acid reflux, acid regurgitation, heartburn, or reflux. Having GER once in a while is common.

What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious and long-lasting form of GER.

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What is the difference between GER and GERD?
GER that occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks could be GERD. GERD can lead to more serious health problems over time. If you think you have GERD, you consult your physician. It is estimated that around 20% of the U.S. population is affected by GERD.

Who is more likely to have GERD?
Anyone can develop GERD, some for unknown reasons. You are more likely to have GERD if you are: overweight or obese, a pregnant woman, taking certain medications or are a smoker or an individual regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

Symptoms and causes
If you have gastroesophageal reflux (GER), you may taste food or stomach acid in the back of your mouth.

The most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is regular heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest, behind your breastbone, and in the middle of your abdomen. Not all adults with GERD have heartburn.

Other common GERD symptoms include: bad breath, nausea, pain in your chest or upper part of your abdomen, problems swallowing or painful swallowing, respiratory problems, vomiting, and the wearing away of your teeth.

GER and GERD happen when your lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t, causing stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes due to certain things, such as: increased pressure on your abdomen from being overweight, obese, or pregnant, certain medications, and smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke.

A hiatal hernia can also cause GERD. Hiatal hernia is a condition in which the opening in your diaphragm lets the upper part of the stomach move up into your chest, which lowers the pressure in the esophageal sphincter.

When should I seek a physician’s help?
You should see a doctor if you have persistent GER symptoms that do not get better with over-the-counter medications or change in your diet.

In most cases, your doctor diagnoses gastroesophageal reflux (GER) by reviewing your symptoms and medical history. If your symptoms don’t improve with lifestyle changes and medications, you may need testing.

How do physicians diagnose GERD?
If your GER symptoms don’t improve, if they come back frequently, or if you have trouble swallowing, your doctor may recommend testing you for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist to diagnose and treat GERD.

How do you control GER and GERD?
You may be able to control gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by not eating or drinking items that cause GER such as greasy or spicy foods and alcoholic drinks, not overeating, not eating 2 or 3 hours before bedtime, losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke and taking over-the-counter medicines such as Maalox or Rolaids.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medicines, surgery, or a combination.

Lifestyle changes
Making lifestyle changes can reduce your GER and GERD symptoms. You should

  • lose weight, if needed.
  • wear loose-fitting clothing around your abdomen. Tight clothing can squeeze your stomach area and push acid up into your esophagus.
  • stay upright for 3 hours after meals. Avoid reclining and slouching when sitting.
  • sleep on a slight angle. Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches by safely putting blocks under the bedposts. Just using extra pillows will not help.
  • quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

Choose foods that fight acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Eating, Diet and Nutrition
How can your diet help prevent or relieve GER or GERD?

You can prevent or relieve your symptoms from gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by changing your diet. You may need to avoid certain foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse. Other dietary changes that can help reduce your symptoms include: decreasing fatty foods and eating small, frequent meals instead of large meals.

What should I avoid eating?
Avoid eating or drinking the following items that may make GER or GERD worse such as chocolate, coffee, peppermint, greasy or spicy foods, tomatoes and tomato products and alcoholic drinks.

What can I eat if I have GER or GERD?
Eating healthy and balanced amounts of different types of foods is good for your overall health. For more information about eating a balanced diet, visit Choose My Plate.

If you’re overweight or obese, talk with your doctor or a dietitian about dietary changes that can help you lose weight and decrease your GERD symptoms.

An additional dietary information resource can be found at wakegastro.com.

Thanks to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health for the content provided. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified health professional before acting upon any specific information provided here.

Additional Information:
See the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology for an overview of GERD aaaai.org.

An additional dietary information resource can be found at wakegastro.com.
_____________________

Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 35 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at marqos69@hotmail.com.

Credit: Tallahassee Democrat

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