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Health Condition

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

About This Condition

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disorder of the esophagus that causes frequent symptoms of heartburn. The esophagus is the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. GERD occurs when a muscular ring called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weakened, which permits irritating stomach contents to pass up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.

Sometimes regurgitation of acid and food as high as the mouth can occur. Chronic irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid can eventually cause ulceration and scarring and might lead to cancer of the esophagus, especially in people who smoke and/or consume large amounts of alcohol.1

Symptoms

People with GERD have heartburn, which usually feels like a burning pain that begins in the chest and may travel upward to the throat. Many people also feel a regurgitation of stomach contents into the mouth, leaving an acid or bitter taste. Some people with GERD may also have coughing while lying down, increased production of saliva, and difficulty sleeping after eating.

Other Therapies

Individuals with GERD should avoid stomach acid stimulants (for example, coffee, alcohol), certain drugs (for example, anticholinergics), specific foods (for example, fats and chocolate), and smoking.

Reducing Your Risk

To help keep you in top health, our experts recommend these steps:

  • Identify irritants. For those with occasional heartburn, simple dietary and lifestyle changes can help prevent and manage individual reflux episodes. Some people find that avoiding certain triggers, such as lying down immediately after eating, spicy foods, mint flavors, raw garlic, and chocolate can prevent heartburn. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
  • Visit the vitamin aisle. Some people require medications to manage GERD, but for others, a smart supplement choice can bring quick relief from occasional heartburn issues. Chewable DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) supplements are one option. Select Vitamins, above, for more information.
  • Lose weight, lose the burn. Being overweight or obese, especially if those extra pounds are carried in your midsection, significantly increases GERD risk. Weight loss can bring enough relief to allow less use of medications for some. Select Eating Right and Medicines, above, for more information.
  • Butt out. Smoking significantly increases GERD risk, and can worsen each episode of heartburn. Quitting may be difficult, so consider over-the-counter and prescription products to increase your chances of success. Select Personal Care, above, for more information on smoking cessation products.

Living With It

Our experts recommend the following top tips to help tame the fire in your tummy:

  • Make the most of your meals. Even if you take medication to manage chronic GERD, diet is an important component of your heartburn prevention routine. For example, a low-fat diet is one option for reducing GERD, and may help you need less medication over time. Select Eating Right, above, for more information.
  • Supplement suitably. If you are taking medications to manage GERD, talk to your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist about whether you need any dietary supplements, as some GERD medications reduce absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Select Medicines, above, for more drug-nutrient interactions and other safety information.
  • Mind your medications. If you’ve been prescribed GERD medications, take them exactly as directed. If you are having unpleasant side effects, tell your doctor right away, so you can work together to find better options, so you do not have to suffer in silence. Select Medicines, above, for more information about medications commonly prescribed to manage GERD.
  • Butt out. Smoking significantly increases GERD risk, and can worsen each episode of heartburn. Quitting may be difficult, so consider over-the-counter and prescription products to increase your chances of success. Select Personal Care, above, for more information on smoking cessation products.

References

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.