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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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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

Dropping some pounds, taking a look at your diet, and making some adjustments to your bed -- all can help you deal with GERD.

"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 the esophagus."

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 worse.

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 stomach."

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