It’s not surprising that the week of Thanksgiving was chosen as GERD awareness week, especially with our tendency to indulge in a little too much pumpkin pie, stuffing, and yams! GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a common disease that affects millions of Americans. Everyone has heartburn on occasion, but there are some clear differences between heartburn and GERD.
GERD is the most common digestive disorder for which patients seek medical care. Approximately 10% of Americans suffer from daily symptoms or take medications to manage these symptoms on a daily basis. In most patients who do not tolerate medical therapy or in patients who have inadequate or incomplete relief of GERD symptoms from appropriate medical therapy, antireflux surgery – performed by experienced surgeons and in appropriately selected patients – is a safe and effective option.
Helpful Tips to Prevent GERD
- Lose weight. Obesity is the leading cause of GERD. Extra stomach fat places pressure on your abdomen, pushing gastric juices up into your esophagus.
- Avoid foods known to cause reflux. If you’re at risk for GERD, avoid:
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus
- Coffee or any caffeinated beverage
- Carbonated beverages
- Eat smaller meals. When you eat a meal and then stretch out for a nap, you’re taking gravity out of the equation.
- Elevate your bed. Raising the head of your bed six to eight inches can help gravity keep gastric acid down in your stomach. You could also use a wedge-shaped support. Don’t use extra pillows, as they only raise your head and will not help with GERD. You need your entire upper body elevated to get relief.
- Review your medications. There are a number of medications that can increase your risk of GERD. These medications include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs
- Calcium channel blockers (often used to treat high blood pressure)
- Certain asthma medications, including beta-agonists like albuterol
- Anticholinergics, medications used to treat conditions such as seasonal allergies and glaucoma
- Bisphosphonates, used to boost bone density
- Sedatives and painkillers
- Some antibiotics
- Iron tablets
If you are taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor about switching to another drug that does not have the same effect on the upper digestive tract. However, never stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.
- Quit smoking.
- Cut back on alcohol. Alcohol can also cause the esophageal muscles to spasm.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes. Do not wear tight clothing or belts that can constrict your stomach.
- Try a gluten-free diet. At least one study has found that gluten, a protein found in grains like barley, rye, and wheat, may cause or exacerbate GERD symptoms. Try eliminating gluten from your diet and see if it makes a difference.
If after trying the above tips, you are still experiencing GERD, see your doctor.
Surgical Treatment of GERD
Surgical therapy is also an option for the treatment of GERD. The main indication for surgical therapy is failure of medical management when symptoms persist despite appropriate medical therapy. Another indication for antireflux surgery is personal preference. Some people do not want to take lifelong acid suppression medication or have too many side-effects from these medications and may want to consider antireflux surgery. If you or someone you love is suffering from GERD, you may be a candidate for antireflux surgery. Talk to your primary care physician and know your options.