- What is GERD?
- What are the symptoms of GERD?
- How is GERD treated?
- What foods can I eat if I have GERD?
- Am I at risk of developing GERD?
If you’re experiencing the burning pain of heartburn several times a week, you may have a more chronic condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD is very common, and in most people, it can be controlled with medications and diet. If left untreated, however, GERD can lead to serious complications.
This blog will look closely at GERD, its symptoms, and what foods you should avoid along with other treatments to manage the disease.
What Is GERD?
GERD occurs when the acid from your stomach flows upward into the esophagus. It’s a type of chronic acid reflux disorder. Normally, the food and beverages you consume travel south down a connecting tube between your mouth and stomach, where the food is absorbed. At the bottom of this tube is a muscle that opens to allow food into the stomach and then closes to keep it inside for digestion.
Sometimes this hatch, known as the esophageal sphincter, doesn’t close properly, allowing the food to travel back up the pipe after landing in your stomach. This acidic, burning fluid can flow all the way back up into your throat and mouth. This symptom of GERD is commonly called heartburn.
Heartburn is a normal part of life for most people. Problems arise, however, if the acid reflux and burning pain continue more than twice a week over several weeks. If you notice you’re regularly taking heartburn medications, you may actually have developed the more serious condition known as GERD.
What Are the Symptoms of GERD?
Acid in your throat can cause a sour taste in your mouth and a burning pain in the center of your body. Heartburn can even be mistaken for a heart attack, particularly if the symptoms are severe. You may feel as if your chest has tightened or that you have food stuck in your throat. Your voice may be hoarse in the mornings or develop a dry cough and bad breath.
Other common signs of GERD include:
- Burning chest pain after eating
- Chest pain that is worse when reclining or lying down
- Food or a sour liquid regurgitation
- Problems sleeping
- Problems swallowing
GERD develops when these symptoms caused by the acid backwash occur more than twice a week. If you fail to treat the symptoms, that acid can begin to irritate and eat away of the esophageal lining and cause other serious problems such as:
- An esophageal ulcer
- Narrowing of the esophagus due to scarring from acid damage
- Precancerous changes to the esophagus
Fortunately, GERD can be controlled. See your doctor for treatment if you’re suffering from acid reflux frequently.
How Is GERD Treated?
GERD can be treated with medications and dietary changes. In fact, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications and dietary changes well before trying other types of treatments. There are many types of non-prescription medications available, including:
- Antacids to neutralize the stomach acid such as Mylanta or Rolaids
- H-2 receptor blockers to cut acid formation such as Pepcid AC or Tagamet HB
- Proton pump inhibitors to stop acid production and heal the esophagus such as Prevacid 24 HR and Prilosec OTC
If these medications don’t work, your doctor may try these same types of medications at prescription strength. There are also medications available to strengthen the esophageal sphincter.
If medications fail, there are surgical options to treat GERD as well:
- A fundoplication procedure alters the stomach to strengthen the esophageal sphincter
- A magnetic device can be inserted at the junction of the esophagus and stomach to help the esophageal sphincter close properly
- The transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF) uses polypropylene fasteners to wrap around the esophageal sphincter to help it function
While these surgeries can be effective, they are also invasive. Your doctor will talk with you about other forms of treatment, such as developing a meal plan, to help manage your GERD before considering surgery.
What Foods Can I Eat if I Have GERD?
You can have a varied, delicious menu even if you suffer from GERD. The first thing to consider is that GERD can flare up with any food depending on the position of your body after eating or the amount of food you consume in one sitting.
A large, heavy meal right before bedtime will almost certainly cause GERD symptoms, and you will want to avoid lying down after eating. You should also consider frequent small meals over bigger portions. Imagine controlling your GERD just by keeping your body upright after eating and consuming small portions. While this doesn’t work for everyone, it may for you.
Knowing the foods you should avoid is an individualized process of monitoring when and what you eat. There is no consensus in the medical community about the foods people with GERD should avoid because everyone is different. Generally, high-fat foods like french fries, fried meat or onion rings should be avoided
Rich dairy foods such as whole milk, ice cream, sour cream, and cheese, may also cause flare ups. Even some fruits such as tomatoes, oranges, and pineapples, which contain high amounts of acid, can be problematic. Spicy foods may or may not cause problems or even coffee or alcoholic beverages.
It’s common for doctors to have their patients track what foods work best for them by using a food diary. Careful monitoring of this diary can help you and your doctor determine a great meal plan that is delicious and helps you manage your symptoms.
Am I at Risk of Developing GERD?
There are some conditions that make you more prone to acid reflux and eventually developing GERD. This includes:
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Eating large quantities or eating late into the evening before bed
- Taking certain medications over the long-term
If you’re experiencing frequent bouts of heartburn, please contact Gastroenterology Associates of Southwest Florida, P.A., to schedule your appointment. We’re available at four convenient locations to protect your health.