Manage acid reflux with healthy lifestyle changes
The heartburn caused by your next big holiday meal might be more serious than you think.
That pain could be a symptom of something more severe – gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but proper treatment methods and lifestyle changes could prevent a lifetime of daily discomfort and medication.
“Many lifestyle changes can help with acid reflux,” says Dr. Ashwani Garg, family medicine physician on staff at Elgin, Ill.-based Advocate Sherman Hospital. “Everyone deserves a trial of lifestyle changes before committing to a lifetime of medication and medical procedures.”
With more than 30 percent of U.S. adults considered obese, acid reflux is now more common than ever.
Between 25 to 40 percent of adults in the U.S. experience symptomatic GERD each month, research shows. Another 10 to 20 percent suffer from the disease weekly or daily, and even infants and children can have it.
The illness occurs when the normal protective muscle tone of the esophagus and breathing muscle don’t function, leading to regurgitation or stomach acid and contents up to the esophagus and something into the mouth or down the lungs.
“Acid reflux is unfortunately extremely common, especially with the rising problem of obesity and the dependence on coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, processed foods, and meat and dairy foods,” Dr. Garg says. “Significant changes in diet, regular exercise and a reduction of sitting are the only way to effectively get rid of GERD.”
Besides obesity, an improper diet and prolonged sitting, many common prescription medications can worsen the disease, Dr. Garg says. These include pain and blood pressure medications.
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can help treat acid reflux, but depending on them for a lifetime of relief could lead to a malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, higher chance of intestinal infections and pneumonia, bone fractures, weight gain, anemia and neuropathy.
Dr. Garg encourages people to talk to their doctor before changing any medication, and to reach out to a gastroenterologist if GERD symptoms persist to rule out more serious problems such as Barrett’s esophagus or ulcers.
Healthy changes include losing weight with a diet high in fiber and low in acidity, regular exercise, wearing loose clothes, avoiding late-night meals, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. Also, for people with jobs that require constant sitting, take frequent standing and/or walking breaks.
“Side effects of this approach will improve overall well-being, reduce blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and perhaps even improve heart health and fitness,” Dr. Garg says. “What other treatments would you say could compare to this approach?”
Some alternative treatments for GERD include relaxation with meditation or yoga and some herbal remedies such as slippery elm or deglycyrrhizinated licorice root.
Common symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn or burning chest pain, nausea after eating, and feeling like food is stuck behind the breastbone. Other symptoms include regurgitation, coughing, difficulty swallowing, hiccups, hoarseness of the voice, and sore throat.
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