Reducing GERD Risk
Since we are in the overeating season of the year, which stretches from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, it is probably a good time to review GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. GERD impacts approximately 20% of the U.S. adult population and is the most common gastrointestinal disorder. It is a condition that can become serious if not treated, causing damage to the delicate lining of the esophagus when the stomach acid and bile move up the esophagus. Heartburn and reflux or regurgitation of stomach contents occur at least two times per week with GERD. Let’s learn more about GERD and prevention steps.
Besides chronic acid reflux and heartburn, common symptoms of GERD may include:
- Stomach pain after eating
- Frequent belching
- Chronic cough
- Dental erosion
These are the most common risk factors for GERD:
- 50 years and older
- Tobacco use
- Excess alcohol
- Chronic use of certain meds, including aspirin and antidepressants
Lifestyle changes can reduce the flow of acidic stomach contents up the esophagus:
- Lose weight
- Avoid meals close to bedtime
- Avoid large meals
- Stay upright two to three hours after eating – gravity protects the esophagus!
If you do experience chronic reflux and heartburn several times a week, it would be prudent to see your health care provider. The stomach acid can cause inflammation of the lining of the esophagus and damage the mucosal lining. This could ultimately lead to a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus.
Your doctor might suggest lifestyle modifications first because you will want to control the symptoms and help the esophagus lining heal to eliminate inflammation. And then keep up with those changes so that GERD does not return. You might find that certain foods are more bothersome; common ones include caffeine sources like coffee, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, peppermint and chocolate. But it is very individual and you will want to figure out your hot spot foods.
The volume that you eat can be a factor too - large meals are more troublesome because the stomach becomes distended with food. So having modest size meals is helpful, especially at dinnertime. It might be good, besides staying upright after eating, to take a gentle 5 to10 minute walk following mealtimes. And then some folks find relief with elevating the head of their bed or using more pillows. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to reduce the stomach acid content or to prevent the flow of stomach contents back up the esophagus.
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.
By: Rita P. Smith, MS, RD, CDE, Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital