woman holding her throat with a red spotlight because of pain

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the frequent backflow of stomach acid up into your esophagus–that’s the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. This backwash is called acid reflux, and it causes irritation because well, it’s acid! Our stomach is designed to handle this strong stuff as it is protected with a specialized mucus membrane lining. But when these stomach acids don’t stay where they belong it becomes a painful problem. Prolonged, untreated GERD can lead to a damaged esophagus and an esophageal cancer risk. 

The reason for the acid escape is a weakness in the ring of muscle at the bottom end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter. This one-way valve normally closes up, tight right after swallowing to prevent the entry of stomach acids. 

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of GERD include:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), usually after eating, which might be worse at night. This can be due to a reclining position.
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • Sensation of a lump in your throat

These symptoms often occur at night: 

  • Chronic cough
  • Laryngitis
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

There are different severities of GERD

Mild GERD

This is seen as mild symptoms once or twice a month. Treatment relies on lifestyle changes and over-the-counter acid-suppressive medications.

Moderate GERD

Patients are experiencing more frequent symptoms requiring daily prescription acid-suppressive medications. The esophagus may become inflamed. 

Severe GERD

Even with prescription medications symptoms are not controlled. Esophageal inflammation can begin to erode the esophagus. A GERD expert should be consulted. 

Untreated Severe GERD

Untreated reflux can lead to precancerous lesions or esophageal cancer. 10% of patients with long-term GERD may need stronger medications or surgery to ease symptoms.

Foods That May Cause Heartburn and GERD

There are foods that seem to trigger heartburn by causing the esophageal sphincter to relax, and also these foods sit in the stomach longer. Eating later at night can contribute to the problem These foods are often high in fat, salt, spice, or acid such as:

  • Fried food
  • Pizza
  • Potato chips and processed snacks 
  • Chili powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne)
  • Fatty meats such as bacon and sausage
  • Cheese
  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated beverages (Fore more info: The Skinny on Carbonated Waters )

Friendly Foods That Help Prevent Acid Reflux

  • High-fiber foods 

Fibrous foods make you feel full so you’re less likely to overeat, which may contribute to heartburn. 

  • Whole grains such as oatmeal, couscous and brown rice.
  • Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
  • Green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and green beans.
  • Mixed nuts
  • Alkaline Foods

The pH scale is an indicator of acid levels and those that have a low pH are acidic and   are more likely to cause reflux. Those with higher pH are alkaline and can help offset strong stomach acid. Such as:

  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel
  • Nuts
  • High Water Content Foods

            Foods with lots of water can dilute and weaken stomach acid. Such as:

  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Broth-based soups
  • Herbal tea
  • Heartburn Home Remedies

            Consider trying these before reaching for over-the-counter medications:

  • Milk or low-fat yogurt

The fat in milk can aggravate acid reflux. But nonfat milk can act as a temporary coating between the stomach lining and acidic stomach. Low-fat yogurt has the same soothing properties

  • Ginger tea

Ginger is a tried-and-true medicinal food.  It’s alkaline and an anti-inflammatory, which eases irritation in the digestive tract. 

  • Baking Soda

                        A teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water can help neutralize acid. 

Weight Gain and GER

It is well known that obesity is a contributor the GERD. Regrettably, GERD has recently been directly linked to even small gains in body weight. 8:24 PMhis is true without the person being overweight according to BMI (Body Mass Index). When the weight gain is around the abdomen, the extra fat squeezes your stomach, so more fluid is likely to travel upward into your esophagus. 

The researchers found the increase in GERD risk correlated closely with the increase in the study subject’s BMI. If you are prone to GERD, this means staying at your ideal weight and not letting those few extra pounds creep up even if you eventually lose them again.

When To See a Healthcare Professional

Heartburn is often confused with symptoms of a heart attack. Get immediate care if you have chest pain, with shortness of breath, jaw, or arm pain. 

If you experience severe or frequent heartburn two or more times a week and changes to your diet or eating pattern haven’t helped, a gastroenterologist who specializes in the digestive system can test the acidity in your stomach, see if frequent acid reflux has damaged your esophagus, and offer a treatment plan.

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