Lifestyle changes sometimes help prevent symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a chronic form of heartburn. The major cause of GERD is that the lower esophageal sphincter, located where the esophagus joins the stomach, is weak or relaxes inappropriately.
Because fatty foods, mints, chocolates, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or colas, relax the lower esophageal sphincter, you may be able to reduce the amount of acid reflux you experience by avoiding these foods. Carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and juices, spicy foods, and tomato sauce may irritate the lining of your esophagus and make the effects of GERD more severe. Cutting out these foods helps some people who have GERD.
You may help reduce reflux by quitting smoking, wearing loose clothing, eating smaller meals, not lying down for at least three hours after you eat, and losing weight if you are overweight. Some people are able to prevent symptoms at night by raising the head of their bed with 6-inch blocks or by sleeping on a special wedge-shaped pillow that elevates the upper part of the body. Sleeping on your left side may also lessen symptoms.
Some medications, such as birth control pills and drugs for osteoporosis, may cause reflux and heartburn as a side effect. If drugs you are taking seem to be the cause of your heartburn, talk with your doctor about other medications you might be able to use instead. Do not stop taking a prescription drug until you talk with your doctor.