Over-the-counter antacids and prescription medications are the most common treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In the most severe cases, surgery may even be required. But regardless of how bad your GERD symptoms are, successfully fighting heartburn and acid reflux also requires some changes in lifestyle, ranging from the food you eat to the clothes you wear.
If you stick to them every day, these seven habits may help minimize GERD symptoms.
Small, frequent meals
Meals are often a trigger for GERD symptoms. In fact, all-you-can-eat buffets are almost always a recipe for heartburn.
A very full stomach can cause the valve between your stomach and esophagus (known as the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) to relax, pushing stomach acids back up into the esophagus.
Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Don't make that last meal too late, though: Eating close to bedtime can trigger GERD symptoms as well.)
Cut the cake
Be it chocolate or caffeine, certain foods and drinks are notorious for exacerbating GERD symptoms.
The list includes spicy foods, fatty red meat, French fries (and other fried foods), citrus fruit, raw onion, tomatoes, butter, oil, peppermint, chocolate, and caffeine.
Don't drink alcohol
Alcohol is a bad idea for most people with GERD, especially if you drink too much, or on a regular basis—alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
A 1999 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that the percentage of people reporting reflux symptoms increased with the number of drinks consumed weekly. Those who quaffed more than seven drinks per week were the most likely to have heartburn.
Another reason to shed pounds
Excess weight can contribute to heartburn and acid reflux. A 2003 study of more than 10,000 people in the International Journal of Epidemiology found a strong link between GERD symptoms and body mass index (BMI). Obese people are nearly three times more likely than people of normal weight to have heartburn and acid reflux.
Experts aren't exactly sure why. Excess abdominal fat may place pressure on the stomach, but it may also cause chemical or hormonal changes that make the body more susceptible to acid reflux.
Don't wear tight clothing
Much like excess belly fat, clothing that's a tight fit around the midsection can push against your stomach and force acid into the esophagus.
Sure those pants look cute, but is it worth it? If you have heartburn, skip belts, waistbands, hosiery, and undergarments that may be too tight.
Head up, sleep better
What does sleep have to do with heartburn? More than you might think. Avoid eating before bedtime and elevate your head six to eight inches while you sleep.
This position doesn't necessarily reduce the frequency of acid reflux, but research shows it helps stomach acid drain from the esophagus more quickly. One study reported a 67 percent increase in acid clearance time.
Don't own a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed? Prop up your bed on specially designed blocks or use a foam wedge, both of which you can find at most home stores. (Piling up the pillows isn't as effective.)
Everyone knows that smoking damages your heart and lungs. But what about your digestive system? Yep, that too.
Nicotine, like alcohol, may worsen GERD symptoms by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter.
Smoking also causes bile salts to migrate from the small intestine into the stomach and reduces the amount of saliva you produce. (Saliva helps flush stomach acid out of the esophagus and contains a natural acid-fighter, bicarbonate.)