Heartburn is such a common condition that it is often ignored as caused by poor lifestyle decisions. Occasional heartburn may not be anything to be concerned about, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is characterized by chronic, recurring heartburn. Without proper care, it may lead to more serious complications.
When a patient has GERD, damage results from repeated or prolonged exposure of the lining of the esophagus to acidic contents from the stomach. This occurs as acidic stomach contents flow backward (reflux) into the esophagus.
Although patients should not self-treat this condition, certain lifestyle changes may help and lessen the need for medication. Here are eight tips to help you live a healthy life with lessened GERD symptoms:
Change your eating habits
Eat smaller meals. For example, six small meals may be beneficial as opposed to three larger meals. Keeping your stomach from becoming too full reduces gastric pressure.
Similarly, eating slower helps by putting less food in your stomach at one time.
It is also important to know what foods may trigger reflux. Some of the foods more likely to cause reflux include tea, carbonated beverages, coffee, alcohol, mint, spicy foods, fatty foods, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and chocolate. If you regularly consume these foods, try eliminating them from your diet and slowly reintroduce them one by one to determine which foods increase your GERD symptoms.
Lose weight if you need to
Eating slower may also help lose weight if this is something you need to do. Excessive weight causes the muscular structure that supports the lower esophageal sphincter to spread. This then decreases the pressure which keeps the sphincter closed, leading to reflux and heartburn.
Limit activity after eating
Avoiding strenuous workouts for a couple hours after eating may keep symptoms at bay. Any exercises that involve bending over should especially be avoided as it sends acid into the esophagus.
Nicotine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing heartburn.
Change your sleep habits
Staying awake for 2-3 hours after eating can help as gravity and food digestion works together to alleviate symptoms. Sleeping with your head and shoulder elevated- either by pillows or in a chair- also helps reduce pressure and keep stomach contents where they belong.
Review your medications
Some medications can relax the sphincter, while others can irritate the esophagus. Over the counter antacids can greatly reduce heartburn, but should not be used constantly. Consult with your physician to discuss which prescriptions you may need to begin or change to lessen your symptoms.
Check your wardrobe
Tight-fitting clothes around the abdomen should be avoided. This includes tight belts, pants, and slenderizing undergarments.
Learning relaxation techniques may help alleviate stress. Although stress has not been linked to heartburn, it can lead to heartburn triggering behaviors.
If you’re struggling with living with GERD day to day, our CCMH Physicians want to help improve your quality of life! Make an appointment today: ccmhhealth.com/providers.
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