10 Ways to Make Living With Acid Reflux Disease Easier
You may have been diagnosed with acid reflux disease (GERD) but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life fully. These tips won’t necessarily make your acid reflux will go away—it will still be there, Yet it is often possible to alleviate the symptoms enough that you may forget it’s there. That’s the goal.
If you wish to control your acid reflux symptoms, it usually requires a combination of lifestyle changes. Following just one of these tips may help a bit, but probably won’t give you the results you want and deserve. On the other hand, combining a few of these tips may help you even more than if you simply added them together. Wouldn’t it be nice if the balance in our checking accounts worked the same way? Try these 10 tips to make living with acid reflux easier.
Eat 6 Small Meals Not 3 Big Meals
The goal in eating smaller meals is to keep your stomach from becoming too full. This will reduce your gastric pressure. The reason for eating more meals is simply so that you can get the calories and nutrition you need.
By slowing down your eating you will end up with less food in your stomach at any one time. If you’re someone who could stand to lose a pound or two, this practice can kill two birds with one stone. It takes time for the chemical messengers in our stomach to let the brain know we’re getting full. Give those messengers time to work, and your body will better tell you when you’ve had enough.
There are many tips for learning to slow down while eating, but there is probably even more to this eating practice that it’s benefits for heartburn. The Mediterranean diet we’ve heard so much about—the diet that appears to result in higher life expectancy all the way around—is more than just the sum of foods found in that region. In the typical Mediterranean diet, meals are savored and eaten slowly.
Turn off the TV. Think about the food you are eating. Mix food with the conversation. If all else fails and you’re still eating too fast, try eating with your non-dominant hand. Unless you’re equally agile with both hands, this can be an easy way to slow down.
Do Not Eat or Drink Anything Two Hours Before Bedtime
Try to avoid eating or drinking in the two-hour slot before bedtime. The key here is gravity, and when you lie flat, the contents of your stomach may travel. Many people with heartburn find that their symptoms improve when they eat their bigger meals earlier in the day.
Avoid Foods That Trigger Your Heartburn
You probably already know some of the foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn. Some foods cause heartburn by increasing acid production in your stomach, whereas others do their deed by loosening the lower sphincter muscle in your esophagus.
There are also foods that can directly irritate the lining of your esophagus such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, coffee, and juices. Consuming these foods during your evening meal(s) raises your risk of heartburn more than if you consume them earlier in the day, so save those heartburn-causing foods (that you eat anyway because you love them) for breakfast or lunch.
Sometimes it can be hard to know which foods cause you the most problems. If this is the case, consider keeping a heartburn journal in which you record the foods you eat each day and the degree of heartburn you experience. You may want to rank your heartburn by using a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing barely-there heartburn and 10 representing heartburn you can hardly stand. When you step back and look at the trends in this way, a pattern—and therefore a solution—often becomes visible.
Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus. This is compounded if you have a hiatal hernia. If you still want to consume alcohol, you should learn how much and when to consume alcohol to decrease the chance it will cause heartburn.
Use an Antacid
Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn. An H2 blocker will work for a longer period of time, usually up to 12 hours. Your doctor may suggest taking one of the H2 blockers.
Since they take an hour or so to begin working, your doctor may suggest taking an H2 blocker in combination with an antacid. If you don’t find relief from these, your doctor may prescribe a proton pump inhibitors.
If your symptoms are chronic, or they are new and are lasting more than a week or two, make sure to talk to your doctor before continuing any over the counter medications you try.
Sleep With Your Head and Shoulders Up
When you sleep with your head higher than your stomach, gravity can help to reduce pressure and keep the contents of your stomach where it belongs—in your stomach.
You can elevate your head in a couple of ways. You can place bricks, blocks or anything that’s sturdy securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head. Note that simply piling up pillows doesn’t usually work very well to relieve heartburn, and the angle created by these attempts may even make your heartburn worse.
The same goes for naps. Some people find that napping in a chair can help prevent heartburn better than if they lie down in bed for a snooze.
Avoid Clothing Which Constricts Your Abdomen
Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and can cause food to reflux into the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems includes tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.
Smoking causes heartburn in several ways. Not only does cigarette smoke directly irritate the esophagus, but smoking increases the production of stomach acid, decreases saliva (which helps to neutralize stomach acid), slows digestion, and decreases tone in the lower esophageal sphincter.
Quitting smoking will not only decrease your risk of acid reflux disease in six different ways but will help to spare you from the multitude of diseases and cancers caused by smoking, including esophageal cancer.
While stress hasn’t been linked directly to heartburn, it’s known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. You can learn relaxation tips to alleviate your stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely.
- Ness-Jensen, E., Hveem, K., El-Seraq, H., and J. Lagergren. Lifestyle Intervention in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2016. 14(2):175-82.e1-3.