What is GERD?
More than three million Americans suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the muscle between the esophagus and stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Caused by stomach acid flowing backward into the esophagus, GERD is typically characterized by persistent, severe heartburn. In most cases, symptoms of GERD can be relieved by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, but some cases may require medication or even surgery.
Symptoms and signs of GERD
GERD can exhibit many symptoms, but often the most obvious sign is painful and relentless heartburn. Symptoms and signs include:
- Heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest) that sometimes spreads to your throat, often accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Hoarseness or a sore throat
- The feeling of a lump in your throat
- Dry cough
To diagnose GERD, a few options may be used:
- An evaluation of symptoms
- A test to monitor the amount of acid in the esophagus
- An X-ray of the upper digestive system
- An examination of the inside of the esophagus using a flexible camera
- A test to measure the movement of the esophagus
What you can do to manage GERD
GERD can often be managed by simply making small changes to your normal diet and lifestyle. To manage your GERD, try some of the tips below.
Don’t go to bed with a full stomach
Try eating your meals at least two to three hours before lying down to go to sleep. This will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, giving acid levels a chance to reduce before putting your body in a position that makes you more susceptible to the backward flow (reflux) of stomach acid.
Limiting the size of your portions at meals can help reduce your risk for GERD. Try eating four to five small meals per day instead of three large ones.
Try to slow down when you’re eating and take time to enjoy your food. Rushing through your meals can put too much food in your stomach at once, which will increase your risk for acid reflux. Try putting your fork down in between bites, and chew slowly.
Wear loose-fitting clothes around your abdomen
Tight-fitting clothing around the abdomen can put extra pressure on the stomach and lower esophageal sphincter, causing acid to flow back up into the esophagus. Try wearing clothing that is loose around the abdomen to prevent this from occurring.
Avoid heartburn triggers
Identify and try to avoid anything that may be causing your heartburn symptoms, especially certain foods that can make them worse. Be wary of foods known to cause heartburn symptoms like onions, alcohol, peppermint, chocolate, caffeine, citrus, tomatoes or high-fat or spicy foods. In addition, keep a heartburn log to keep track of when your heartburn hits, and to more easily identify which activities and foods are triggers.
Nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach. This allows the backflow of acid to more easily enter the esophagus.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess pounds can often place increased pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus. If you are overweight or obese, try to shed some extra pounds with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
To speak with one of our experienced gastroenterologists about your heartburn or GERD, call the physicians at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates today at (908) 818-0129 to schedule your next appointment.