By Connie Colbert
GCU Director of Health Services
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic medical condition caused when the flow of stomach contents travels upward into the esophagus.
The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that is felt behind the breastbone. Regurgitation is a feeling of fluid or food coming up into the chest. Many people experience both symptoms, but others have only one.
Other less common symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Problems swallowing or pain while swallowing
- Chronic cough or hoarseness
- Excessive burping
- Pain in the upper portion of your stomach below your breastbone
Anyone, including children and even infants, can have GERD. If it is not treated, it can lead to more serious health problems. In some cases, you might need medicines or surgery. However, there are natural ways to minimize or control symptoms.
First, avoid foods that trigger heartburn. The big offenders are:
- Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, and tomato-based food, such as pizza and spaghetti
- Alcoholic drinks
- Coffee and other sources of caffeine
- High-fat foods
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated beverages
Foods that help with GERD:
- High fiber foods can help you feel fuller and prevent you from overeating
- Alkaline foods such as bananas, melons, cauliflower, fennel and nuts
- Low fat yogurt
- Skim or 1% milk
Other recommended habits:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals
- Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime, especially if GERD is worse at night
- Lose weight (even a few pounds) if you are overweight or obese
- Wear loose-fitting clothes
- Elevate your head during sleep, either by safely putting blocks under your bedposts to raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches or by placing a foam wedge under your head
- Quit smoking
If lifestyle changes do not resolve symptoms, over-the-counter medications can help. Here are some to choose from:
- Antacids: Can relieve mild symptoms. However, you should NOT use these medicines every day or for severe symptoms, except after discussing your antacid use with your health care provider. These medicines can have side effects, such as constipation or diarrhea. Some examples of name brand antacids include Tums, Rolaids, Pepto Bismol, Maalox and Mylanta.
- H2 blockers: Lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. H2 blockers can help heal the esophagus (the muscular tube connecting the throat and the stomach) but not as well as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can. You can buy H2 blockers over the counter, or your doctor can prescribe one. Some examples include Zantac and Pepcid.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. PPIs are better at treating GERD symptoms than H2 blockers, and they can heal the esophageal lining in most people with GERD. You can buy PPIs over the counter, or your doctor can prescribe one. Your health care provider may prescribe PPIs for long-term GERD treatment, but do not take a PPI for longer than two weeks without consulting a health care provider first.
If you have tried lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications with no change in GERD symptoms, it is time to consult your health care provider. There could be a more serious reason for your GERD.