Nearly everyone has experienced it.
You eat a large meal, lay down for the evening, and then it starts: a burning in your chest that moves up your throat. At times it’s just annoying. Other times it’s cringingly painful. Whatever the case, heartburn (also known as acid reflux) is no fun, and if untreated can become a serious medical issue. Chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), exposes your esophagus to stomach acids, searing the lining and over time creating swelling, damaged vocal chords, and in more rare cases, increased odds of cancer.
The good news is that there are very practical, simple ways of limiting acid reflux to the normal and healthy range of once a week or less.
Food and Drink Choices
When foods are difficult to digest, your body produces extra stomach acid to dissolve them. This increased acid can leak into your esophagus, creating heartburn. If you’re experiencing chronic acid reflux consider cutting back on particularly fatty foods, foods high in citrus, chocolate, spicy foods, or onions and garlic. The same goes for certain drinks, such as coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, and alcohol.
One of the main sources of GERD is obesity. This isn’t just about extra fat in general, but “central obesity” which is fat centered around the middle of your body. Abdominal fat, at a certain point, applies pressure to your stomach, which pushes acid up the esophagus. Losing weight, either through diet and exercise or in rare cases surgery, often limit the frequency of reflux.
Avoid Eating, then Laying Down
Late dinners. Late night snacks. Lounging on the couch after a large meal. All of these activities increase the likelihood of acid reflux due to one unavoidable factor: gravity. When we eat, the bottom of our esophagus opens to let food into the stomach, and then ideally closes up tight. However, lying down means these acids are either spilling through when the esophagus is open, or leaking through when it fails to fully close. Either way, one easy way to decrease acid reflux is avoid lying down within 2-3 hours of eating.
It’s also worth placing foam blocks, or any sort of elevating device, under your pillow while sleeping. Raising your head 4-6 inches at night can make a huge difference. Another option is to avoid large meals, replacing them with several small snacks. Smaller food portions allow your body to produce less acid.
Just as it does to other parts of the body, smoking has a devastating effect on your digestive system. And it’s not just smoking. Chewing tobacco and secondhand smoke contribute to the lower esophageal sphincter softening, allowing acid to spill out of the stomach. Smoking also can lead to chronic coughing, which increases pressure on the belly as well.
Lower Your Stress Levels
You may have noticed a link between stress and heartburn. If so, you’re not alone! Nearly two-thirds of people report the same thing, although science hasn’t fully figured out why. Some experts speculate that stress increases stomach acid, and that stress can also heighten your perception of heartburn’s discomfort.
One way to fight stress is to exercise regularly. Start with thirty minutes of cardio three times a week, and see if you notice a drop in both your anxiety and your acid reflux.
Visit Your Doctor
In addition to the above options, there are several other methods for dealing with acid reflux. For more information about these, and other forms of digestive help, make an appointment at Cary Gastroenterology today. Our experienced doctors and staff would love to talk through your options, and create a plan that benefits your long-term health and works for you.