What is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?
Each time we eat, food passes from the throat into the stomach through a tube called the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter is at the bottom of the esophagus. This is a ring of muscles between the esophagus and the stomach. In some people, these muscles become weak and the contents of the stomach may leak back up into the esophagus. This is known as reflux. Heartburn and acid reflux that happens multiple times per week can lead to a medical condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Symptoms of GERD:
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain
- Frequent throat clearing
- Burning in the mouth
When to see a doctor
If you have heartburn or indigestion that lasts more than two weeks, it could be GERD. You should call your primary care physician (PCP) for an evaluation. GERD can often be treated by making lifestyle changes. In some cases, treatment may include medication and, rarely, surgery. Your PCP can help you decide which option is necessary and best for you.
Some foods are more likely to cause reflux:
- Fatty or fried foods
- Very hot or very cold foods
- Drinks that contain caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks)
- Spicy foods
- Citrus fruits
- Tomato-based foods (spaghetti, pizza, chili)
Some foods can help relieve GERD symptoms:
- Herbal tea
- Aloe vera
- Brown rice
Lifestyle changes can help reduce GERD
Focus on healthy eating:
- Make healthy swaps for foods that cause symptoms.
- Eat small meals.
- Avoid late-night snacking.
- Eat 2 to 3 hours before lying down.
- Make note of foods that cause symptoms, and work with your health care provider to understand how these foods can impact your GERD.
Avoid tobacco or alcohol:
- Nicotine and alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and may cause contents of the stomach to leak back up.
Lose weight/maintain a healthy weight:
- Being overweight can put additional pressure on your stomach, increasing the likelihood of heartburn. If you are overweight, even a modest amount of loss can help.
- If you are at a normal weight, focus on healthy eating and activity to maintain your current weight.
- Be mindful while eating by taking small mouthfuls and chewing well.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects and bending over after you eat.
- Take medicines exactly as your doctor prescribes.
- Develop healthy responses to stress, such as exercise and mindfulness.
Where to turn for help
If you are experiencing symptoms of GERD, discuss appropriate lifestyle changes with your doctor. Then, ask your doctor to write you a Prescription for Wellness so you can connect with a health coach over the phone or online. A health coach can help you set goals to put a plan into action. Your health coach can also help you choose healthier food options (swaps) and take steps toward other changes like quitting smoking or losing weight. Your health coach is your guide on your journey to better health and wellness.
Or, you can contact a health coach about your condition. Call 1-866-778-6073 (TTY 711) to get started today.
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- UPMC Healthwise Health Library: GERD: Controlling heartburn by changing your habits: http://www.upmc.com/health-library/Pages/HealthwiseIndex.aspx?qid=ut1339.
- UPMC Healthwise Health Library: GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease: http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/gastro/Pages/gerd.aspx.