Acid reflux, which can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when acid from the stomach gets into the esophagus and causes irritation. GERD occurs when acid reflux happens regularly, though many people without GERD can get acid reflux occasionally, also known as heartburn. Long term inflammation of the esophagus caused by acid reflux can lead to additional complications such as:
- Narrowing of the esophagus that can lead to swallowing issues
- The formation of open sores (or ulcers) in the esophagus which can bleed and cause difficulty swallowing
- Precancerous changes in the esophagus such as changes in the lining of the lower esophagus
Heartburn and GERD are both common in the United States. Research has shown that about 20% of Americans have GERD.
Treating acid reflux can be fairly simple if it’s not too severe and you’re only experiencing mild symptoms, like mild chest discomfort or difficulty swallowing. Here’s a look at some home remedies for this condition, and when you should see a doctor.
Remedies for Acid Reflux
Acid reflux can have a few different symptoms depending on diet and severity. Common symptoms are chronic cough, disrupted sleep because of discomfort, heartburn in the chest after eating, or a lump sensation in the throat.
There are few things you can do at home to try to minimize symptoms and avoid acid reflux from occurring all together, though they may not work for everyone.
Because acid reflux is most commonly caused by the food we eat, focusing on your diet can reduce symptoms. Rule number one is to avoid overeating. Research has shown that most symptoms occur after a meal, and that the bigger the meal, the worse the symptoms.
Excess weight is a factor in acid reflux.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Other studies have linked alcohol consumption with increased stomach acid, leading to increases in acid reflux symptoms, even in healthy individuals. Therefore, limiting the amount of alcohol you consume can help prevent heartburn.
Avoid Acidic Foods and Drinks
In addition to alcohol and overeating, there are other dietary causes of acid reflux that will help you avoid symptoms. Acidic foods that may make heartburn worsen include the following:
- Citrus fruit juice
- Tomato sauce
- Fried food
- Carbonated beverages
- Garlic and onion
Eat High-Fiber Foods
Foods that are high in fiber can help you avoid and reduce acid reflux symptoms. Try eating foods like whole grains, root vegetables like carrots and beets, and green veggies like broccoli. Nuts and fruits with high water content, like watermelon, can also help.
Don’t Eat Before Bed
One way to prevent acid reflux from impacting your sleep is to avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime. Studies have shown that people who eat closer to bedtime have increased GERD symptoms.
Avoid Tight Clothing
If you wear tight clothing around the stomach area, like a tight belt or restraining pants, it could contribute to acid reflux symptoms. Try wearing loose-fitting clothes to avoid extra pressure on your abdomen.
When to See a Doctor
Sometimes home acid reflux remedies won’t be enough to reduce your symptoms. Or, you may be experiencing symptoms that are similar to acid reflux but are actually signs of a more severe condition.
GERD symptoms, particularly chest pain and discomfort, can be signs of a heart issue or heart attack in some cases. If you have chest pain and are also experiencing shortness of breath or pain in the arm or jaw, seek medical care right away.
If you experience severe heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms regularly, talk to a doctor about medication that can help you manage symptoms. Sometimes acid reflux could lead to damage in the esophagus that will need further treatment. Your doctor may order a chest exam or an upper endoscopy to check things out further and evaluate if damage has been done.