Most of us enjoy the occasional celebration. Imagine a big Italian meal out with friends. The wine is flowing. You know it’s fried, but you order the chicken Parmesan anyway and it’s good. The night ends with more wine and chocolate.
You go home and it’s late so you go right to bed and—bam!—heartburn so bad you can’t sleep. Your throat is burning. Your stomach hurts. The lingering taste of chocolate has been replaced by a sour stench.
If heartburn or acid reflux is something that hits you twice a week or more, you may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when stomach acid—or even stomach content—flows back into your esophagus.
Some medications can treat GERD and, in more severe cases, surgery can be an option. But the good news is that the majority of people with the condition improve significantly with a few lifestyle changes and home remedies for GERD. Here are seven to try.
1. Quit smoking. If you smoke, add GERD to the list of the negative ways your habit affects your health. Smoking relaxes your sphincter, which allows acid to more easily flow into your esophagus.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy identifies obesity as the leading cause of GERD. Excess weight increases pressure on the abdomen, which makes stomach acid leakage or backflow more likely.
3. Avoid triggers. These are not the same for everyone, but common culprits include fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, black pepper, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, citrus, onion and caffeine. Keep a food diary to see what foods may be giving you trouble.
4. Don’t overeat. Many people with GERD find that eating five or six small meals a day is a lot easier on their esophagus than three large meals.
5. Eat earlier. Don’t eat in the two to three hours before bed. Also, don’t lie down after a big meal, which makes digestion more difficult and heartburn more likely. If you experience symptoms while sleeping anyway, try elevating the head of your bed a few inches by placing a cinder block under the feet of your bed. Another nighttime trick is to sleep on your left side. Researchers aren’t entirely clear why it works, but studies show that it does.
6. Chew sugar-free gum. Employing this trick after a meal will increase saliva production, which research shows helps force fluids back into the stomach and neutralizes the acids that cause the characteristic burning sensation.
7. Avoid tight-fitting clothes. A tight waistband or belt puts pressure on the abdomen in the same way that being overweight does.
Not all of these changes are easy to make—especially losing weight and quitting smoking—but both will improve not only your GERD, but your life. Call Bay Area Digestive Health at 419-663-8061 today if you need help getting your health under control.
Dr. Alfred Kafity, DO, FACP, FACG contributed to this post. He is board certified by the American Board of Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology.