With Thanksgiving coming up, eating—of all things rich, indulgent and delicious—is top of mind for many Americans. But for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eating this type of food often and in large quantities can be a challenge. This week is GERD Awareness Week, a good time to learn how to prevent GERD symptoms and still enjoy your holiday season.
GERD is the return of stomach contents, including acid, into the esophagus, sometimes known as acid reflux. More than 60 million people in the U.S. experience GERD symptoms, such as frequent heartburn, at least once a month.
You may have a higher risk of having GERD if you:
- produce a lot of gastric acid
- have a hiatal hernia
- have a weak lower esophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach)
- are obese
- drink alcohol or a lot of caffeine
Women have additional risk factors, including being a young adult and adopting a stooping or slouching posture. Certain foods, including peppermint, chocolate, fatty or fried foods, and acidic fruits, also raise the risk of developing heartburn and acid reflux.
Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can be effective for many people to reduce the frequency and intensity of GERD symptoms, including:
- losing weight if needed
- quitting smoking
- eating small meals throughout the day
- avoiding foods that cause symptoms
- waiting at least two hours before lying down after a meal
Another first line of treatment is medication, such as antacids or proton pump inhibitors. These drugs are available over the counter and by prescription from your doctor and reduce or stop the production of stomach acid to prevent symptoms.
If occasional heartburn bothers you after a big meal, try making lifestyle changes to help you feel better. If your symptoms persist, your doctor may look deeper into the possible causes for your discomfort. Knowing the risk factors for GERD can help you avoid complications and stay healthy throughout the holidays and all year long.
To learn more about GERD, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website
Layla Al-Nakkash, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Physiology, at Midwestern University, Glendale, Ariz. She is the course director for medical physiology for medical and podiatry students. Her area of research relates to understanding how intestinal dysfunction (in diseases such as cystic fibrosis and diabetes) can be ameliorated by changes in diet.