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Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a painful condition in which stomach acid flows up the esophagus and into the mouth. Sometimes called dyspepsia, acid reflux or heartburn, GERD can generate a fiery sensation in the chest and throat that can range from mild to severe.
What is GERD?
GERD can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. In the United States, approximately 20 percent of the population has GERD, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Five million Canadians experience heartburn and/or acid regurgitation at least once each week, states the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation.
GERD can cause difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, a sensation of a lump in the throat, or chest pain, advises the Mayo Clinic. Some people experience intermittent symptoms of GERD, while others experience symptoms with every meal or in between meals. People who have chronic reflux might also suffer from nighttime symptoms, such as disrupted sleep or chronic cough. The NIDDK says GERD also may cause Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which tissue that is similar to the intestine replaces the tissue lining the esophagus.
In many mild to moderate cases of reflux, individuals can rely on lifestyle changes and natural remedies to prevent symptoms.
– Avoid food triggers. Certain foods and beverages, such as greasy or spicy recipes and alcoholic beverages, can make GERD symptoms strike. Acidic foods, chocolate, onions, carbonated beverages, and caffeinated beverages may also trigger GERD.
– Fasting before bedtime. Avoid eating food and consuming beverages two to three hours before bedtime.
– Lose weight. According to the Center for Esophageal Motility Disorders at Vanderbilt University, obesity is the leading cause of GERD. Extra stomach fat puts pressure on the abdomen, pushing gastric acids into the esophagus. Losing weight can reduce this pressure.
– Eat small meals. Rather than eating a few big meals, eat small meals throughout the day.
– Try natural herbs. WebMD says that some natural GERD remedies contain German chamomile, lemon balm, licorice, milk thistle, and angelica. Also, melatonin, a supplement used as a sleep aid, has been suggested to help relieve heartburn. But the research is conflicting as to whether melatonin is effective. Always discuss supplement use with a doctor prior to starting a regimen.
– Drink low-fat milk. Milk may temporarily buffer stomach acid, but high-fat milk may stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
– Chew gum. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, which can be an acid buffer, offers WebMD. Chewing gum also results in more swallowing, which can force acids out of the esophagus.
– Quit smoking. Some studies indicate nicotine relaxes the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter, the flap that blocks stomach acid from coming into the esophagus.
– Stay upright. Stay upright after eating a meal for at least three hours. In bed, sleep on a slight angle by raising the head of the bed a few inches.
GERD can be painful, but with a few changes, people can overcome this condition.