Acid Reflux also known as gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) and gastric reflux disease is a disease that is estimated to affect around 40-50% of the world’s population in one form of another. I personally suffer from it and for the most part am able to keep it under control through proper diet and exercise. This article is meant to help those who may be new to the problem or already have difficulties with the disease find remedies to help with the pain, nausea, belching, and gassy feeling.
Do I have Acid Reflux?
What exactly is heartburn? How do I know if that’s what I’m experiencing? Those are two important questions to figure out since a reflux “attack” can sometimes feel like a heart attack. Contrary to the name heartburn, the sensation and problems have absolutely nothing to do with the heart. Acid reflux actually doesn’t affect your heart at all and poses no serious long term issues to any of the hearts functions.
Instead, acid reflux is a problem located in the digestive system caused by a loosing of the esophageal sphincter which then allows digestive acid to back up into the esophagus causing inflammation and irritation. The reason this happens varies from person to person and takes experimentation to fully master. Most of the cases though involve certain trigger foods such as alcohol, chocolate, fried foods, creamy foods, spicy foods, or citrus fruit. The trigger food will vary from person to person though which is why it is important to keep a log of what you ate throughout the day when the attack occurred to narrow it down. Heavy lifting, eating too much, laying down after eating, obesity, hiatal hernias, and certain medicines can bring also bring on reflux symptoms.
Symptoms of heartburn are varied but can include:
- Chest pain
- Bloating or gassy feeling
- A sour taste in the back of the mouth
- Regurgitation of food
- Trouble swallowing
- Increased salivation
- Painful swallowing
If left untreated, reflux can lead to serious problems including Barrett’s Esophagus, Esophageal Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Erosive Esophagitis, or an Esophageal Strictures. Those only pose a risk if the problem is severe enough and left untreated. Otherwise, the only other serious problem is your day being ruined due to discomfort.
Treatments for Acid Reflux
Luckily for most individuals acid reflux can be managed through proper diet, exercise, and possibly prescriptions. Below is a list of things you can do today to help prevent heartburn later.
- Eat in moderation: Avoid consuming larger meals and instead opt for smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. This avoids overeating and allows the stomach to break down food easier.
- Eat slower and enjoy the food: If you’re like me, eating food slowly can be tough at times. Unfortunately this is a very effective tool to combat reflux since eating quickly overloads the stomach and leads to overeating.
- Keep a food log: This will allow you to pinpoint which foods trigger reflux in your body.
- Exercise: Losing weight and getting in shape in an amazing way to solve not only reflux problems but also a whole host of other issues such as a lack of energy. It is one of the most effective tools you have besides watching what you eat to combat the reflux symptoms.
- Avoid eating right before going to bed: The idea behind this is that you won’t be full and lying down. This is probably the worst situation a person can put themselves in since lying down allows the esophageal sphincter to relax leading to acid inflaming your esophagus causing you to wake up with chest pain during the middle of the night.
- Reduce stress in your life: Being stressed out can cause the muscles around your stomach to contract which then lets food and acid travel back up into the esophagus.
- Have a cup of hot water or tea after the meal: This is a method that is based around the idea that warm liquids dilute acid and flush out your stomach.
- Stop smoking: Smoking loosens the esophageal sphincter which once again lets acid and food into the esophagus causing inflammation and pain.
- Raise your bed 6-8”: This keeps acid from flowing into the esophagus thus reducing the chance of waking up in the middle of the night with chest pain.
- Have a piece of gum: Chewing gum stimulates the saliva glands in the human mouth allowing the production of more saliva which dilutes stomach acid.
- Avoid tight clothing: Tight clothing contracts the stomach muscles which relax the esophageal sphincter thus allowing acid and food to back up into the esophagus causing inflammation.
Even with significant lifestyle changes some people may need medication to help control reflux. Medication ranges from prescriptions such as Protonix to over the counter pills such as Prevacid. Generally all of these medicines will be similar with differences occurring in the dosage and strength. Also be sure to check with your pharmacist for generic alternatives since they can cost a fraction of the price of the name brand.
If a prescription isn’t enough to control the effects of acid reflux then the potential exists for undergoing the Stretta procedure. This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radio frequencies to create scar tissue or legions around the esophageal sphincter. The goal is to create a barrier to keep acid and food from inflaming the esophagus. It is a relatively new procedure but is gaining popularity due to its outpatient status. The procedure takes around 40 minutes and patients can expect to receive the maximum benefit from undergoing the surgery in about 2-6 months.
The main way to beat acid reflux is to not let it control your life. You have tools and options at your disposal to beat the disease but it is up to each of us to use them to our benefit. There will always be days that you will relapse but the goal is to minimize these days to once a year or longer. It isn’t easy but with dedication and persistence it is possible to live a life free of acid reflux.