Severe Heartburn? It May Be GERD
Heartburn may seem like an irritation, but it can lead to serious health complications -- if left untreated.
Lifestyle Choices continued...
"Losing weight is perhaps one of the most important lifestyle choices
when it comes to GERD," says Richter. "It's been shown that people who
are obese have more heartburn, more irritation of the esophagus, and more
complications from their disease."
In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, it's best to avoid overeating.
"More often, it's not as much the types of food we eat as it is the volume
of food," Richter tells WebMD. "That's why reflux commonly occurs after
dinner, because in our society it's the largest meal of the day. With big
meals, the stomach slows down, so there's more stomach contents to go back into
You should also learn which foods spell trouble for you individually. While
you might be living by the credo that pepperoni pizza causes the symptoms of
GERD to flare without fail, that's not necessarily so.
"At this point, I no longer recommend that people completely avoid spicy
foods, fried foods on occasion, and chocolate and coffee and tea, other than to
say if it hurts to eat it, then don't," says Patricia Raymond, MD, a fellow
with the American College of Gastroenterology and host of National Public
Radio's House Calls program. "And be aware that some people can eat
some foods, while others can't. Each case of GERD varies."
Even though the effects of meals differ from person to person, foods that
most commonly cause GERD symptoms include fatty items (such as french fries and
cheeseburgers), chocolate, peppermint, colas, and orange juice.
And anyone with GERD should avoid alcohol, which has a relaxing effect on
the esophageal sphincter, explains Raymond. This opens the door for acid to
reflux from the stomach into the esophagus and makes the symptoms of GERD
Finally, it sounds simple, but it's true: When and how you sleep has a big
impact on GERD symptoms. For example, lying down or going to bed an hour after
having a three-course dinner means that the food in your stomach, along with
damaging acids, can make its way up your esophagus. Wait at least two or three
hours after eating before you lie down, Raymond advises, and follow the
"head of the bed" rule.
"Put bricks or blocks under the front legs [those at the head] of the
bed to incline your head six to eight inches," Raymond tells WebMD. "Or
get a foam wedge that goes from under your hips all the way to the head of the
bed. This helps keep stomach contents where they belong -- in the
Medications for GERD
If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough to keep the disease in check, you
may need a prescription medication. In fact, if you're popping antacids more
than once a week for heartburn, that's also a sign you may need more aggressive
treatment. Relying on antacids alone can be dangerous, since they don't prevent
long-term damage to the esophagus.