Sometimes the signs of acid reflux are unmistakable - 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 healthcare 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:
- Say no to bubbles. Because bubbles can carry acid up from the stomach, it is best to remove seltzer, soda and other forms of carbonation from your diet.
- Cut the fat. A low-fat diet can minimize acid reflux. Foods that are rich in fat take longer to digest, slowing down the process of emptying your stomach which creates more stomach acid. Stick to eating low-fat foods to help get your diet on the right track.
- Caffeine alert. Caffeine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve designed to keep stomach contents - including gastric acid - out of the esophagus. Try to limit your caffeine intake to just one cup of coffee a day or less.
- Slim down. Unlike some of the other strategies that can be implemented immediately, weight loss is more of a long-term management solution. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.