Can You Prevent GERD?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 29, 2021
3 min read

If you're looking for a way to prevent the frequent heartburn that goes along with GERD, some easy lifestyle changes may do the trick. A smarter diet, better sleep habits, and stress relief could help keep you free of the uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest that's a hallmark of the digestive disease.

GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease. A key way to prevent it is to make tweaks to your diet and the way you eat.

Have small, frequent meals. Don't chow down on three large squares a day. Instead, eat five smaller meals that you spread throughout the day, and avoid a large meal at dinnertime. This keeps your stomach from stretching and pushing food and acid upward, which makes GERD symptoms like acid reflux worse.

Avoid trigger foods. Some things you eat can make your heartburn act up, like:

  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Peppermint
  • Tomato products
  • Fried, fatty, or spicy foods
  • Garlic and onions

You may also want to keep a food diary, where you jot down everything you eat and note the time you have GERD symptoms. It may reveal a pattern that shows you which foods are triggers for your heartburn.

Cut back on alcohol, tea, coffee, and carbonated drinks. They can bring on GERD symptoms, so limit them or cut back completely if you can.

Don't eat before bedtime. Try not to snack or dine at least 2 to 3 hours before you go to sleep. When you lie down, gravity pulls whatever's in your stomach toward your esophagus -- the tube that connects your throat and stomach. By eating earlier, there's less food in there to come back up and bring on GERD symptoms.

Prop up the head of your bed 6 to 10 inches. You can keep heartburn and other GERD symptoms away if you put your head and chest above your stomach. It helps gravity keep what's in your stomach away from your esophagus.

Don't prop your back up with pillows, though, since that may bend your body in a way that puts pressure on your stomach. Instead, use a foam wedge under your mattress, or put blocks of wood under the top legs of the bed.

You already know it's a good idea to quit the tobacco habit to prevent cancer and keep your heart healthy. But you can also prevent heartburn if you ditch cigarettes, since smoking can trigger GERD symptoms.

Obesity has been linked to GERD. Being overweight puts extra pressure on your stomach, which pushes food and acid up toward your esophagus.

If you need to shed pounds, you'll see improvements in GERD if you lose just 10 to 15 pounds. Talk to your doctor to figure out a plan to drop no more than about 1 to 2 pounds each week.

Some over-the-counter pain drugs can make GERD worse, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. For pain relief, take acetaminophen instead.

Other prescription medications have also been linked to GERD, such as:

If you think your medicine might be causing GERD, talk to your doctor. Don't stop taking a medication without their go-ahead.

These strategies may also help prevent GERD:

Relieve stress: See if yoga, meditation, or tai chi can cut your symptoms.

Chew gum after meals: You'll make more saliva, which helps neutralize heartburn-causing acid.

Wear loose clothing: Tight clothing, especially around your stomach, can push stomach acid upward.