You’ve been experiencing frequent heartburn that just won’t go away, and a trip to the doctor’s office has confirmed that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While relieved to finally have a diagnosis, you may also be at a loss for clues to what comes next.
GERD is caused by stomach acid backing up into your esophagus, a condition known as “acid reflux.” This acid back-up is at the root of all your discomfort, which may show up not only as heartburn but also as a burning sensation in your throat, discomfort in your chest, and a sour stomach.
Your doctor probably will prescribe a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or an H2 antagonist, both of which are usually effective in reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces. Of course, while a prescription regimen may ease some patients’ symptoms, it may not eliminate them completely. If this is the case, you may consider also making some simple lifestyle changes that can make the difference between feeling sick and miserable or being healthy and happy.
As with many gastrointestinal disorders, one the first challenges in living with GERD is learning to adjust your diet. Foods that are highly acidic, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, are to be avoided, as are onions, peppers, fried foods, and foods high in fat. Other foods that you should avoid or eat sparingly aren’t quite as obvious, such as dairy products, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, and alcohol. In addition to asking your doctor about how to regulate your diet, you also can find a wealth of information, both in print and online, regarding what foods are safer bets, as well as great recipes created especially for those with GERD.
While not all doctors endorse it, many GERD sufferers claim to have had considerable success combating their symptoms by taking a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar daily. Why this natural remedy might offer relief is not known for sure, but one theory is that the vinegar’s alkaline properties act to reduce the stomach acid. At any rate, there is little to risk and everything to gain, since a tablespoon of vinegar once a day is not likely to hurt anyone. If you have a hard time swallowing this remedy, many of its proponents suggest adding some honey to combat the bitter taste or mixing it into a glass of water.
Almost as important as what you eat is how you eat. You should adjust your eating habits so that you are eating smaller portions at each sitting, even if it means eating more frequently. It’s also a good idea to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours prior to going to sleep.
Many who are plagued by GERD struggle to get a full night’s rest due to discomfort which can keep even the most exhausted individual awake, and in turn, sap their energy for the next day. Also, to keep stomach acid from advancing up the esophagus, you might consider investing in a wedge pillow or elevating the head of your bed so that you are not lying completely flat when sleeping. Lastly, if you wear nightclothes to bed, make sure they are loose fitting, as tight clothes can aggravate reflux.
In addition to adjusting eating and sleeping habits, people who suffer from GERD should try to maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, and drink alcohol only in moderation (if at all). Excess weight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all intensify the symptoms of GERD.
While there is no quick fix for GERD, with proper medication, a focused diet, and lifestyle changes, it is possible to manage the condition. People suffering from the effects of GERD should talk to their physician to best decide what nutrition and lifestyle changes can be implemented to help alleviate the discomfort of living with GERD.