Heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion…words we don’t like to hear, but symptoms too many of us struggle with. Why, and what can be done about them?
After food is swallowed and makes its’ way into the stomach, a muscle called the esophageal sphincter will tighten, keeping the food in the stomach while it’s being digested. Sometimes this muscle doesn’t work perfectly. The resulting GERD is usually experienced as burning through the chest area, nausea, and difficulty swallowing. This can eventually lead to cough and hoarseness. In some instances there is asthma and dental problems, and in the worst cases even cancer. Reflux can occur in children as well as adults, and is one of the most commonly experienced disease symptoms, effecting over 15 million adults.
At the first sign of GERD
Many people go straight to the drug store for one of the common over the counter medications available for these symptoms. Although these drugs do work, it’s actually best to start with simple lifestyle changes such as those listed in the below. Elevating the head of the bed and sleeping on the left side can also help.
Lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms of GERD
- Eat slow, chew food well
- Eat smaller meals
- Eat regularly and not less than 3 hrs before bedtime
- Decrease dietary fat
- Stop smoking
- Decrease caffeine and alcohol use
- Decrease carbonated drinks
- Lose weight
If medications are used, it’s usually best to start with inexpensive over-the-counter (OTC) antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids or Tums. Acid or H2 blockers such as famotidine (Pepcid) or ranitidine (Zantac) are a good second choice. The final OTC drug options are the more expensive proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (prilosec) and lansoprazole (prevacid).
If your symptoms don’t improve over 2-6 weeks you should see your doctor for further evaluation and/or treatment.