Early Treatment for Acid Reflux Can Keep Complications at Bay
If you experience an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest after meals, you’re not alone. About 20 percent of Americans experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid leaks into your esophagus.
By making simple lifestyle changes, you can vastly reduce your risk of getting heartburn. Keep a diary handy to note which strategies work best for you. Be sure to share your findings with your doctor and work together to develop a plan. Here are proven strategies to try today:
- Skip foods and drinks that trigger heartburn such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, garlic, onion, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, ketchup and mustard, vinegar, tomato sauce and citrus fruits or juices.
- Eat smaller food portions.
- Wait three hours after a meal before lying down.
- Raise the head of your bed.
- Manage your weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid pressure on your abdomen.
“For most people, GERD can be
mitigated through lifestyle
changes and medications, but it
is important to seek treatment
early to stave off long-term
complications to the esophagus,”
says gastroenterologist Robert J.
Hally, MD. Luckily, there are
many treatments available to
halt GERD in its tracks.
Nipping It in the Bud
During normal digestion, food
passes from the throat to the
stomach via the esophagus. A
ring of muscle around the bottom
part of the esophagus opens to
allow food to pass into the
stomach and shuts to keep food
and acidic stomach juices from
traveling back up into the
esophagus. When the valve
doesn’t close as it should, then
you experience heartburn, the
most common symptom of GERD.
The burning sensation you feel
can last up to two hours and is
often accompanied by a bitter
taste in your mouth.
Hard to Swallow
For most people, lifestyle changes and over-the-counter drugs are effective in treating GERD, but some people require stronger drugs or even surgery to alleviate symptoms. It is important totreat GERD early since the condition can lead to serious complications such as narrowing of the esophagus; an ulcer, or open sore, in the esophagus; or a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
Although rare, Barrett’s esophagus increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Symptoms include frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing food, chest pain, upper abdominal pain and a dry cough. Depending on the severity, treatments range from noninvasive treatments such as periodic exams and medications to more invasive treatments, which include removal of abnormal tissue. Says gastroenterologist Suresh K. Malhotra, MD, “The good news is that most people with Barrett’s esophagus will never develop esophageal cancer and those who do can be treated with a high success rate.”