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Categories > Digestive Disorders > GERD

Got GERD? Get help
What’s going on?
Erase the pain
When to seek help

Eat to beat GERD
Eat to beat GERD

Certain foods are especially irritating for heartburn sufferers. Figuring out your trigger foods and avoiding them can help eliminate symptoms. Common culprits include:

  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • alcohol
  • fried, fatty foods
  • minty foods
  • soda
  • citrus
  • garlic
  • onions
  • spicy foods

You finish off a big, delicious meal—and immediately pay for it with the fiery pain of heartburn. Quickly, you pop an antacid and hope it goes away. No big deal, right? After all, one in five people deal with heartburn at least once a week.

But if you fall prey to the condition more than twice a week, you may actually have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Left untreated, GERD can lead to other problems, including ulcers, a narrowing of the esophagus, lung problems and even cancer.

What’s going on?

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that opens when you swallow, allowing food to pass into your stomach. Then it closes, to keep acid in your stomach, where it belongs.

With GERD, the LES relaxes too often or is weak. The result? Acid flows back up, causing that burning in your throat or chest. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, chronic cough, asthma and excessive throat clearing. Mothers—to-be are especially susceptible because the body creates more progesterone-a hormone that relaxes the LES—during pregnancy.

Erase the pain

Before you try medication, take these steps to help soothe the burn:

  • Lose weight. If you’re overweight, dropping even a few pounds can help.
  • Stop smoking. Tobacco stimulates acid production and relaxes the LES, leading to reflux.
  • Close the kitchen. Stop eating two to three hours before bed, and don’t lie down after a meal—it’s easier for acid to flow back up when you lie down.
  • Loosen up. Avoid tight clothes, which can increase abdominal pressure.
  • Downsize your meals. Aim for smaller, more frequent meals. When you eat less, your stomach doesn’t produce as much acid.
  • Keep your mouth busy. Suck on hard candies or chew gum to increase saliva production, which acts as a natural barrier to acid.

When to seek help

Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs work wonders on GERD. The antacids you get at the drugstore neutralize stomach acid. However, they don’t offer long-term relief or prevent heartburn, so they’re not as helpful for frequent or severe heartburn. Medicines called H2 blockers stop acid production, while proton pump inhibitors heal the lining of the esophagus and reduce GERD symptoms. (Talk with your healthcare provider about risks associated with taking proton pump inhibitors. Long-term use, particularly at high doses, has been linked to an increased hip fracture risk.) If you’ve been using over-the-counter drugs for more than two weeks and are still suffering, see your provider. He or she can offer stronger prescription-strength medications or may refer you to a gastroenterologist for further treatment.