Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common chronic condition affecting nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Learn more about this common condition, how it is diagnosed and what you can do to manage it.
What is GERD?
“GERD develops when the muscle at the end of your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth into your stomach, does not close properly. This makes the contents of your stomach leak back into your esophagus, causing acid reflux,” says Mary Allison Mitchell, DO, a family medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group.
The most common GERD symptoms are a burning sensation in your abdomen or chest and acid reflux. Dr. Mitchell says that acid reflux turns into GERD when your episodes occur more than once a week. Here are other common symptoms to look out for:
- Bad breath
- Respiratory issues
- Trouble swallowing
- Wearing teeth enamel
See a gastroenterologist or primary care physician if you develop more serious symptoms such as, iron deficiency anemia, vomiting or weight-loss because of GERD-like symptoms.
GERD can develop at any age. “If you are overweight, pregnant, a smoker or are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, you may be a higher risk,” says Dr. Mitchell. “In some cases, you can develop GERD if you take certain medications, such as asthma and blood pressure controllers, antihistamines and painkillers.”
There are several ways your doctor can check your esophagus to confirm a GERD diagnosis. A simple history of symptoms, imaging or endoscopy can lead to a diagnosis. Your physician will determine the best way to diagnosis and treat.
While there is no cure for GERD, you can make dietary changes to manage your condition. Poorly managed GERD can inflame or narrow your esophagus, cause respiratory issues or lead to more serious conditions. Here are some tips to help manage your symptoms.
Choose mild foods and beverages
In most cases, you can get relief from avoiding acidic foods that trigger heartburn and acid reflux. Dr. Mitchell suggests avoiding caffeine, greasy foods, onions, peppermint and citrus fruits. Alcohol and carbonated beverages may also worsen your symptoms. Instead, opt for milder foods and beverages such as:
- Egg whites
- Leafy green vegetables
- Grilled or baked lean meats
- Oatmeal and other whole grains
Eat smaller meals
Eating smaller meals makes it easier for your body to digest food throughout the day and reduces your chances of experiencing acid reflux.
Avoid eating close to bedtime
When you lay down after eating, you produce more stomach acid and are more likely to develop acid reflux. Give your body at least four hours to digest your food in an upright position before sleeping.
Take acid control medications.
There are several medicines you can take to limit acid buildup and uncomfortable symptoms. “Over-the-counter antacids and H2 blockers can help relieve heartburn and acid reflux,” Dr. Mitchell says. “For more severe cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe a stronger medication.”
Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, Mayo Clinic, American Academy of Family Physicians