If you regularly suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, you know how uncomfortable it can be and how it can affect your daily life. Most people experience this uncomfortable burning sensation after eating, especially large meals. While it can seem like an easy solution to keep over-the-counter antacids on hand as a way of relieving the symptoms of acid reflux, it’s important to know that this isn’t a viable long-term solution to the problem. Over-the-counter medications are fine to use to get relief from time to time, but can actually have negative side effects if you take them for too long without proper doctor supervision. Rather than only medicating the symptoms, we prefer to teach our patients how to make lifestyle changes that will both lessen the frequency and intensity of your acid reflux.  

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux comes as a result of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) malfunctioning. The LES is a small muscle that serves as a type of valve separating the esophagus from the stomach. When the lower esophageal sphincter is working properly, it closes after eating, allowing food to travel down into the stomach and be digested properly with stomach acid. When it malfunctions, it can open, letting your stomach contents, both food and acid, flow backward through the esophagus. This is what causes the burning sensation associated with acid reflux. 

For some, this reflux is a stand-alone issue that might only happen every now and then. For others, it might be a sign of a more significant health issue. Some people experience heartburn and acid reflux as a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a significantly more serious disease that is usually diagnosed once reflux occurs more than twice a week over a few week period of time. GERD affects around 20% of Americans and requires a doctor’s diagnosis. 

Who Experiences Acid Reflux Or GERD?

Anyone can suffer from acid reflux, but it is most common amongst overweight or obese people, can show up temporarily in pregnant women, is frequently seen in smokers, and can come as a side effect of certain medications. 

Now that you know what acid reflux is, here are three suggestions we give our patients to relieve the pain that comes along with it as well as lessen the frequency of the symptoms of acid reflux.  

1. Eat Regular Meals And Smaller Portions

One of the first places to tackle your acid reflux is in the kitchen. Following large meals is when you’re most likely to feel acid reflux symptoms. If you notice that large meals trigger your reflux, consider eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. Try to avoid citrus fruit, fatty food, greasy foods, and spicy foods. What you eat isn’t the only factor, either. You should finish your dinner at least three hours prior to going to bed. Your stomach acid produces the largest amount of stomach acid within three hours of eating, so if you lie down within that window, you’re more likely to experience heartburn. 

2. Take A Walk

Physical activity can help minimize the symptoms of acid reflux in several ways. For starters, light exercise aids in the digestive process and also helps keep your stomach contents in your stomach much better than laying down. It can also help you lose weight, which should also reduce reflux. 

3. Make Some Lifestyle Adjustments

If you’re a smoker or a drinker, you should consider quitting these habits. Stopping drinking and smoking is better for your overall health, but these two substances are known to aggravate heartburn symptoms, affect your stomach acid production, and irritate your lower esophageal sphincter. 

When To See A Doctor You don’t need to come to see us if you’re experiencing the symptoms of heartburn infrequently and by themselves. If you do start to see an uptick in the frequency or intensity, or if you see more alarming symptoms like vomiting, unintended weight loss, chest pain, choking while eating, or red or black stools, make an appointment to see us here at Cary Gastroenterology Associates as soon as possible.