How to manage acid reflux
“I’m going to have heartburn after I eat this.”
This might be one of the most common sayings heard at parties and dinner tables across America. Although people may know a certain food will lead to heartburn, many still eat it simply because they can take medication to prevent it from causing pain.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), 15 million Americans experience heartburn daily. But when it occurs regularly, it can be a sign of acid reflux, a disease where stomach acid comes into the esophagus, causing a burning feeling in the chest. A common way to manage acid reflux is taking over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs called proton pump inhibitors.
“Proton pump inhibitors are very effective in reducing acid in the stomach,” says Dr. Anshuman Chawla, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “However, like all drugs, they come with side effects of long-term use including osteoporosis, diarrhea and low levels of magnesium.”
For those with acid reflux, there is good news. Dr. Chawla says medication with these side effects is not the only way to treat acid reflux. Making lifestyle changes can also make a big impact in relieving symptoms.
Dr. Chawla has seen patients significantly improve their acid reflux and overall health by making the following changes:
- Stop smoking.
- Avoid eating late at night.
- Do not wear tight clothing.
- Lose weight; even losing five or ten pounds can make a significant difference.
Diet can also play a role in managing acid reflux, he says.
“Pay attention to which foods cause heartburn and avoid them,” Dr. Chawla says.
Dr. Chawla says the most common food to avoid are:
- Foods containing caffeine
“It is appropriate to take acid reflux medication when symptoms of heartburn become frequent and do not improve with lifestyle changes,” Dr. Chawla says. “You should also talk to a physician before taking acid reflux medication for an extended period of time.”
Left untreated, he says, acid reflux can result in Barrett’s esophagus, a serious condition which damages the lining of the esophagus and can cause esophageal cancer.
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