What is GERD?
Heartburn is very common, and most people have occasional bouts of acid reflux. When symptoms become more frequent and start to affect your quality of life, however, it may be a sign that you have GERD.
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. Heartburn is the most common symptom. It occurs when the contents of your stomach, which includes acid and food, backs up into your esophagus. GERD isn't life-threatening, but it can impact your daily activities, diet, and sleep.
GERD typically starts as repeated episodes of acid reflux. As the disease progresses, stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and becomes more painful. Sometimes, severe heartburn can cause sharp chest pains that can be mistaken for heart conditions.
GERD symptoms include:
At the base of the esophagus lies a ring of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). These fibers are designed to keep swallowed food in your stomach. If the LES doesn't close properly, the contents of your gut can leak back into your esophagus leading to heartburn.
The severity of GERD symptoms depends on the person. Constant bouts of reflux may damage the esophagus, and create more intense symptoms.
Benefits of GERD diet
It's possible to prevent acid reflux from interrupting your life. Changing your lifestyle and diet, which includes when, how much, and what you eat or drink, can help.
Foods to eat
There are many delicious foods that can help ease your GERD troubles. Try to include:
Foods high in fiber
Consuming more fiber will fill you up so you're less likely to overeat. Here are some things to add to your daily diet:
- Whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal
- Root vegetables including beets and sweet potatoes
- Other vegetables like broccoli and asparagus
Foods with a high pH level
Foods that have a higher pH are less acidic and can prevent reflux. Try:
Foods containing water
Watery foods can dilute and weaken stomach acid. To soothe your burning belly, eat and drink more:
Foods to avoid
Some foods are more likely to increase your GERD symptoms. The top offenders include:
- Raw onion, garlic, and black pepper
- Spicy foods
- Greasy or fatty foods like potato chips, doughnuts, and pastries
- Tomato sauce and tomato products
- Citrus fruits and juices
Other dietary changes to prevent GERD
There are other changes you can make to your eating habits that will help you manage your GERD symptoms, including:
- Eat smaller meals more often.
- Chew more slowly.
- Avoid snacking or eating meals on the run.
- Stay away from high-fat meals and large portions.
- Don't eat before bed.
- Stay upright for an hour after eating to let the contents of your stomach settle.
GERD symptoms can affect your quality of life, but this condition is treatable. Following a GERD diet, making healthy lifestyle changes, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications is a great start.
When to see a doctor
Occasional heartburn doesn’t typically require a doctor’s attention. If you're experiencing reflux more than two times a week and the GERD diet isn't helping, talk to your doctor. You may need to see a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in treating the digestive system), to determine if frequent episodes of acid reflux has damaged your esophagus.
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American College of Gastroenterology: "Acid Reflux."
American Gastroenterological Association: "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)."
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Causes of GERD."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "GERD Diet: "Foods That Help with Acid Reflux."
National Institutes of Medicine: "Definition & Facts for GER & GERD."
University of Virginia Health System: "Diet Tips for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)."