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What's the GERD Diet and Why Does It Help the GI Tract?

November 23, 2021

With the holidays approaching, celebrations with friends and family over a large, delicious meal are tradition. But overindulging at the buffet can lead to stomach upset, or worse, trigger an episode of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.  

Affecting one in five adults in the United States, GERD is a chronic acid reflux condition that can go untreated or misdiagnosed due to symptoms that overlap with heart issues or lesser conditions, such as occasional heartburn. Although there is no known single cause of GERD, discomfort can usually be managed with simple lifestyle modifications and medication. 

GERD and Its Symptoms 

Like ordinary heartburn, the most common symptoms of GERD are painful burning in the chest, burping and bloating caused by digestive acids from the stomach leaking back up into the esophagus, known as acid reflux. But if these issues occur more than twice a week or come with the following additional symptoms, you could be suffering from GERD:

  • Sensation of food sticking in the esophagus (dysphagia)

  • Chronic sore throat, cough or laryngitis

  • Erosion of tooth enamel

  • Sour taste or bad breath (even after brushing)

  • Chest pain or soreness

Chest pain and soreness from GERD can sometimes feel like a heart attack. The difference: GERD chest pain doesn’t include shortness of breath, jaw soreness or radiating arm pain like a heart attack. For any severe pain in your chest, however, you should seek immediate medical care. 

5 Tests To Diagnose GERD 

Since there are several conditions that might cause GERD, ranging from dietary choices to physical irregularities, your doctor might use one or more of the following diagnostic tools:

  • Patient history — This includes a review of medical records and a detailed food diary that tracks what you are eating, the quantities and the time of day. Studies show that 79 percent of GERD patients experience their symptoms at night.

  • Endoscopy — Your doctor can check for potential physical damage such as ulcers or Barrett's esophagus, a condition that affects the lining of the esophagus and can lead to a rare cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

  • Esophagram — A radiologist can track issues such as stricture (narrowing) of the esophagus or for signs of a hiatal hernia — when the upper part of your stomach pushes upward through your diaphragm.

  • Esophageal manometry — Should your doctor suspect the underlying issue to be function of the esophageal sphincter, this test provides pressure readings of the esophagus muscle contractions. 

  • PH probe — Conducted via tube or wireless sensor, this test measures acid exposure in the esophagus over a 24-hour period. It’s not only used to determine if GERD is the issue, but often to track the effectiveness of any prescribed solutions. 

Lifestyle Changes Can Help

 In most cases, GERD symptoms can be substantially reduced by changes in your lifestyle, weight and eating habits, including:

  • Stop smoking, as nicotine can weaken the esophageal sphincter.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to reduce pressure on the sphincter muscle. 

  • Avoid foods that are known triggers, such as fatty and fried food, alcohol, caffeine and tomatoes.

  • Refrain from eating three hours before going to bed to allow digestion, and sleep on an incline to lessen the chance of acid reflux.

  • Consume more high-fiber foods and whole grains. 

  • Increase your mobility and exercise, as being obese or overweight puts you more at risk. 

If these lifestyle modifications don’t help, your doctor can prescribe medications such as antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. For severe cases, there are surgical options that either reduce the stomach’s size (bariatric surgery) or wrap the top of the stomach around the esophagus (fundoplication).

While there is no quick fix for GERD, there are solutions that will allow you to enjoy eating while managing your symptoms and avoiding long-term effects.

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