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The Secrets of Managing GERD and Heartburn

Is it time to get serious about your GERD?

GERD Treatments: Self-Care Tips continued...

The prospect of life without coffee or chocolate may seem terribly depressing. But you don’t necessarily have to give them up entirely. “It’s about how much of these foods you eat,” says Cheskin. “So you can probably still have a half cup of coffee without a problem. The trouble starts if you’re having the coffee after a spicy meal.”

Butschlick says she misses chocolate the most, but she still eats it on occasion. “I just try to keep it to a small piece,” she tells WebMD, “and I’m prepared with some Tums for afterward.”

  • Eat smaller meals. It’s not just what you eat, but how much. So avoid stuffing yourself. Instead of eating three big meals a day, try more frequent smaller meals. 
  • Don’t eat before bed. Waring says you shouldn’t eat two to three hours before bed. Not eating gives your stomach time to empty before you lie down. 
  • Loosen your belt. Tight belts or pants can aggravate your GERD symptoms. Wear looser clothing, especially at night. 
  • Prop up the bed. When you stick blocks under the head of your bed and raise it 6 to 8 inches, gravity will prevent the acids in your stomach from flowing into the esophagus during the night. While this used to be common advice, not everyone can do it. “Sleeping on an elevated bed just isn’t very comfortable,” says Waring. 
  • Lose weight. The heavier you are, the higher your risk of GERD. How much weight do you need to lose to control your symptoms? No one knows for sure, Rao says. But if you’re obese, aiming for a 10% weight loss is always a good idea.
  • Evaluate your other medications. Many common medications -- aspirin and other NSAID painkillers, along with some drugs for high blood pressure -- can make GERD worse. Talk to your doctor about possible alternatives that may not worsen your symptoms. 
  • Stop smoking. Some experts believe that smoking may aggravate GERD symptoms. Add it to your list of good reasons to kick the habit. 
  • Take your GERD medicine as prescribed. GERD symptoms may come and go, but the underlying condition remains. Once you’re feeling better, you may be tempted to stop your long-term medication. That’s not a good idea. “Even if you’re not having symptoms, the GERD could still be causing damage,” Cheskin says. “You may feel fine right up until the acid bores a hole in your esophagus.” Never stop taking your medication unless you’ve talked to your doctor.

Can lifestyle changes be a person’s onlyGERD treatment? Experts disagree. Some believe that lifestyle changes can be enough on their own; others think that they should be added to medication. Talk to your doctor about the best approach in your case.

Some people opt for lifestyle changes because they don’t like the idea of being on lifelong medication. Al Kenny, a GERD sufferer from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., says he prefers to control his GERD with a better diet instead of his PPI. But it’s hard to find the motivation.

“My medicine lets me eat almost anything, which is the good news,” Kenny says. “But the bad news is that it works so well that I’m really not too careful about what I eat. So I can’t stop taking the drug.”

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