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7 Ways to Fight GERD

7 Ways to Fight GERD

Sometimes the signs of acid reflux are unmistakeable -- from searing heartburn to sour-tasting acid burbling up in your throat. Sometimes the signs are as vague as hoarseness or a cough. If you experience any of these regularly -- at least twice a week -- talk to your health care provider. You could be among the millions of Americans with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition marked by chronic, frequent acid reflux. Left untreated, it can damage your esophagus and potentially lead to cancer.

Fortunately, these seven strategies can help get GERD under control:

  1. Say no to bubbles. “The first thing I recommend is that people with GERD look at their diets,” says Linda Lee, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center in Maryland. “It helps to reduce carbonation, including seltzer water and sodas. Those bubbles can carry up acid from the stomach.”
  2. Cut the fat. A low-fat diet can minimize acid reflux. “Foods rich in fat will slow down your stomach-emptying and make more stomach acid” because they take longer to digest, Dr. Lee explains. These simple guidelines for low-fat eating can help get your diet on the right track. 
  3. Caffeine alert. Caffeine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve designed to keep stomach contents -- including gastric acid -- out of the esophagus. “I tell patients they can have a cup of coffee a day if it’s truly just one cup, but not that gigantic cup from Starbucks,” Dr. Lee says. Find out more ways diet can trigger acid reflux.
  4. Slim down. “For long-term management, I recommend weight loss because it’s an independent factor for more frequent and more severe reflux,” Dr. Lee says. In fact, a study in the journal Obesity found that a structured weight-loss program led to complete relief of GERD symptoms in the majority of overweight/obese participants.
  5. Take the right meds. Antacids are great for occasional heartburn, providing short-term relief by neutralizing stomach acid. But for GERD, the first-line treatment is usually a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which decreases the amount of acid in your stomach. PPIs include over-the-counter lansoprazole (Prevacid) and prescription pantoprazole (Protonix). Another type of acid-lowering medication for GERD is an H2 blocker.
  6. Send cigarettes packing. Some evidence suggests that kicking the habit can improve acid reflux – especially when meds aren’t enough. A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that quitting smoking was associated with significant relief from heartburn and acid regurgitation among normal-weight participants who took anti-reflux drugs at least weekly.
  7. Surgery with a funny name. Fundoplication treats GERD by looping a portion of the top of the stomach around the lower end of the esophagus -- effectively creating a new sphincter, or valve. It works well but it’s not for everyone: Doctors usually recommend it for those with severe GERD symptoms who do not find sufficient relief from medication and lifestyle changes.  
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