Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter -- which is the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. While it’s not a life-threatening condition, it can be uncomfortable and chronic for many patients.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat and prevent GERD and regain your quality of life.
If you suffer from GERD, it’s important that you understand the condition and what’s happening in your body. “In normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to prevent food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus,” says WebMD.
However, in people who have GERD, the LES has become more relaxed than usual so it allows acidic stomach content to flow back up into the esophagus. The severity of the symptoms differs from patient to patient, but can range from slight, temporary discomfort to a chronic burning sensation.
When GERD is severe, it can have an impact on every part of your life. In fact, lawyers and doctors have recently started to discuss the possibility that GERD could cause a person to blow a false reading on a breath test machine and end up being wrongly charged with a DWI.
While that’s an extreme situation, it suggests how GERD could affect every facet of your life … if you don’t address it.
Seven ways to prevent GERD
If you suffer from GERD, you need to commit to lifestyle modifications in order to alleviate the problem. Here are seven primary tips for how to prevent uncomfortable symptoms and keep your condition under control.
Identify and avoid trigger foods. The first place to start is with your daily diet. You need to identify which foods tend to aggravate your reflux and then avoid them. Foods that typically lead to uncomfortable symptoms include fatty and spicy foods, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, and acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Consume smaller meals. The more food you eat in one setting, the more pressure you will put on your stomach to digest it. By eating smaller meals throughout the day, you can reduce the pressure and your chances of experiencing reflux.
Don’t eat right before bedtime. Many people don’t realize that gravity helps keep acid reflux at bay. If you allow for three to four hours between mealtime and bedtime, you will give your body the time it needs to digest what you eat, and avoid unnecessary discomfort. If you absolutely must go to bed right after you’ve eaten, try raising the head of your bed six-plus inches to discourage gastric acid from flowing back into your esophagus.
Lose weight. Did you know that excess body fat increases your chances of developing heartburn or acid reflux? According to studies, extra fat in the abdominal region puts more pressure on the stomach and forces fluid into the esophagus. By losing weight, you can reduce such pressures and improve your symptoms.
Eliminate smoking and drinking. Although smoking and drinking don’t cause GERD symptoms on their own, they can aggravate them. Experts say nicotine and alcohol cause the LES to relax, which allows acid to interfere with your esophagus.
Pay attention to medication. Despite what you may think, medication can actually make your symptoms worse and increase your risk of GERD. Medications such as NSAIDs, anticholinergics, painkillers, antibiotics, and iron tablets can interfere with your digestive process or further irritate an inflamed esophagus.
Give a gluten-free diet a try. If nothing else works, it might be worth trying a gluten-free food regimen. Research has indicated that gluten may exacerbate traditional GERD symptoms. By eliminating foods that contain gluten, you may experience some relief.
By observing the above seven tips, most people can eliminate uncomfortable GERD-related symptoms and enjoy a relatively pain-free life. If you haven’t already started searching for answers, now is the time!