It’s perfectly normal to experience heartburn from time to time — especially after eating a hefty meal or spicy foods. But heartburn more than twice a week could mean something more serious.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscles that form a valve between the lower part of the esophagus and the stomach.
Symptoms of GERD
The main symptoms of GERD include:
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Burping up food or sour liquid.
- Bad breath.
- Sensation of something caught in your throat.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Wearing away of tooth enamel.
What Causes Chronic Acid Reflux?
If you have GERD, the LES muscles between the esophagus and stomach become weak. The weakened sphincter valve does close properly, which lets acid or stomach juices leak back or reflux into your esophagus. Reflux can be uncomfortable and cause heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest and throat. Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD.
Treatment may vary depending on the severity of the disease. James D. Luketich, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UPMC, says patients can consider several treatment options for GERD.
Risk Factors for GERD
Your risk for GERD is increased if you:
- Are obese.
- Have a hiatal hernia.
- Are pregnant.
- Have a connective tissue disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
GERD Diet: Foods that Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)
“The first treatment for everyone is looking closely at your lifestyle, what things lead to reflux and what things aggravate your reflux. Sometimes it is as simple as dietary changes,” says Dr. Luketich.
Foods that may cause acid reflux or heartburn
Heartburn-triggering foods cause the esophageal sphincter to relax, delaying the digestive process and letting food sit in the stomach longer. The worst culprits? Foods that are high in fat, salt, or spice, including:
- Deep-fried food.
- Fast food.
- Potato chips and other processed snacks.
- Chili powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne).
- Fatty meats such as bacon and sausage.
- Tomato sauces.
- Citrus fruits.
- Carbonated beverages.
- Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages.
Some medications, such as NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, may make acid reflux or heartburn worse, so you should avoid them taking them when you have symptoms.
Foods that help prevent acid reflux or heartburn
Some types of food are less likely to cause reflux or heartburn. They include foods that are:
High in Fiber
High-fiber foods fill you up so you’re less likely to overeat, which may make GERD worse. They include:
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice.
- Root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets.
- Green vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, and green beans.
High in pH
All foods fall somewhere along the pH scale that indicates their acid level. Foods that have a low pH are acidic and more likely to cause reflux. Foods with a higher pH are alkaline and can help neutralize strong stomach acid. Alkaline foods include:
Eating foods with a high water content can help dilute strong stomach acid. Some to include are:
- Lettuces/mixed greens
- Broth-based soups
- Herbal teas
Learn more about the right diet for GERD.
Treatment Options for GERD
There are several treatment options for GERD, ranging from ones you can implement yourself to others that involve your doctor.
Lifestyle changes for GERD
Simple lifestyle changes you can make on your own can help relieve your symptoms of GERD. Some you might try include:
- Making healthier eating choices.
- Stopping smoking.
- Losing weight.
- Drinking less alcohol.
- Becoming more active.
- Eating smaller portions.
- Eating slower and chewing your food more thoroughly.
- Limiting food at least two hours before bedtime.
Medications for GERD
If diet and lifestyle changes do not work, there are medications to treat GERD.
- Over-the-counter antacids can help reduce the painful burning in your chest and throat but are for short-term use. Long-term use can cause problems. If you find yourself taking antacids for more than two weeks, you should talk with your doctor.
- H2 blockers may be prescribed by your doctor for chronic reflux and heartburn to reduce acid in the stomach. These medicines include cimetidine, famotidine, and nizatidine.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) block a protein needed to make stomach acid. PPIs include dexlansoprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole, pantoprazole, and rabeprazole.
- Prokinetics may be prescribed in severe cases to help your stomach empty faster to lessen the acid left behind. They may also help with bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Many people can’t tolerate them. They are for short-term use only and include domperidone and metoclopramide.
Surgery for GERD
For some people, lifestyle changes and medications are not enough, and the final solution may be surgery.
One of the newest surgical options for treating GERD is minimally invasive surgery, a procedure that uses tiny incisions and typically only requires an overnight stay in the hospital. This surgery repairs the leaky sphincter valve at the bottom of the esophagus to prevent reflux.
Surgeons at UPMC also perform the LINX® procedure for selected people with GERD. The LINX System uses miniature magnetic beads which link together to bolster the lower esophageal sphincter valve, preventing gastric reflux.
When facing surgery, it is important to talk to your doctor and choose the option that is best for you.
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