Many of us experience heartburn now and again—payback for gobbling one too many pizza slices on Friday night.
But if you deal with bouts of it two or more times a week, you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus is too relaxed, letting digestive acid escape from the stomach and bubble up to create that bitter, sour post-meal sensation we know as heartburn. Over time, this can damage the esophagus, leading to ulcers, creation of scar tissue, or a potentially precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Start here to help tame chronic reflux.
1. Avoid trigger foods.
Limit dietary items linked to heartburn: acidic, fatty, or spicy foods; chocolate; alcohol; and carbonated drinks. Other foods may also affect you. “Food sensitivity varies from person to person,” says Austin Chiang, M.D., M.P.H., a gastroenterologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. When you’re hit with reflux, jot down what you’ve eaten to identify which foods get the green light and which don’t.
2. Eat smaller meals.
A too-full stomach makes it more likely that acid will be pushed into the esophagus, so eat small meals and pause between bites, chewing thoroughly to slow your intake and give your stomach time to digest. This can also help you lose weight, which studies suggest can reduce GERD risk.
3. Don't crash after eating.
Wait three hours after a meal to lie down: When you’re upright, gravity keeps stomach acid from rising into the esophagus.
4. Rest and relax.
Stress and anxiety stimulate the release of hormones shown to make the esophagus more sensitive to GERD symptoms. Wind down with your go-to relaxation tactic, and get plenty of sleep—lack of sleep has been associated with more severe symptoms.
1. Coat your throat.
Preliminary research suggests that supplements of deglycyrrhizinated licorice, slippery elm, or marshmallow root help form a mucus barrier in your throat that protects the esophagus and reduces reflux irritation. Check with your doctor before taking them: Mucus-promoting natural remedies may decrease absorption of some medications.
2. Try medication.
Prescription sucralfate (Carafate) as well as over-the-counter alginate (Gaviscon), H2 blockers (Pepcid AC), and proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium) physically block acid. Antacids such as Tums can provide relief in minutes by neutralizing stomach acid, but they’ll likely wear off within two hours. “Ask your doctor what regimen would work best for you,” Dr. Chiang says.
3. Ask about surgery.
If symptoms don’t improve, an endoscopy can reveal more serious conditions such as cancer or determine if you’re a candidate for surgery. Surgical procedures can tighten, strengthen, or thicken esophageal muscles or help hold the stomach opening closed using a flexible ring of magnets.
This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Prevention.
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