Millions of Americans experience heartburn on a daily basis and are popping over-the-counter medicine to get through the day.

The low-down on gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD

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Let’s talk a bit about a health problem that is bothersome but also can cause more serious health issues down the road if you don’t attend to it: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn in its more common name. Millions of Americans experience heartburn on a daily basis and are popping over-the-counter medicine to get through the day.

There is a valve between the end of your esophagus and the opening to your stomach and it can weaken so that the contents of your stomach such as food and stomach acid go back up the esophagus. Ouch!

The most common symptoms for GERD include:

  • Heartburn after eating.
  • Acid in throat or mouth.
  • Constant cough.
  • Hoarseness.

There are lifestyle causes for GERD:

  • Overeating or eating large amounts of food at a time pushing food back up the esophagus.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Consuming certain foods or drinks – this is individual but often includes acid foods or beverages (OJ, tomato sauce, etc.), caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods.
  • Smoking.

Prevention and treatment of GERD are the same: get to  and maintain a healthy weight as you age, don’t smoke, eat small meals of healthy, non-greasy foods, have caution with alcohol and caffeinated beverages, and stay upright after eating for at least one to two hours. It takes a while for the contents of the stomach to empty and you don’t want to lie down with food in your stomach because it will travel back up the esophagus.

If GERD goes untreated, it can cause damage to the delicate tissues lining the esophagus, resulting in ulcers and even scarring, which can result in food getting stuck in the esophagus. Eventually the scarring can cause cancer cell development.  As with so many health issues, prevention is key.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.