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You Can Prevent Acid Reflux – Here’s How

Have you ever felt burning pain in your lower chest after a meal? It might be acid reflux, which also often comes with bloating, burping, coughing, heartburn and a sour taste in your mouth. Persistent acid reflux — occurring twice a week or more — is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Fortunately, you don’t have to live with the pain of acid reflux. There are ways to prevent and treat the condition, which affects nearly 20 percent of Americans.

Causes and Triggers of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids and food back up into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES acts as a “gate” between the esophagus and stomach. It opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to prevent acid from moving upward. When the LES is weak, the contents of your stomach can move back into the esophagus, causing acid reflux symptoms.

Occasional acid reflux is common, but there are certain foods and other factors that make acid reflux more likely. These include:

  • Alcohol

  • Carbonated drinks

  • Chocolate

  • Citrus fruits

  • Fatty foods

  • Tomato-based foods like pasta sauce and ketchup

  • Peppermint

  • Spicy foods

  • Medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, painkillers, sedatives

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Hiatal hernia

  • Pressure on the abdomen from pregnancy or tight clothing

  • Smoking

  • Stress

Ways To Prevent Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can be painful and uncomfortable, but there are changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to help prevent future episodes.

  • Avoid trigger foods

  • Avoiding eating two to three hours before bedtime

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruit, protein and vegetables

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Sit or stand up after eating, and avoid laying down

  • Sleep on an incline. Elevate your head 6 to 8 inches higher than your feet

  • Quit smoking

If you experience acid reflux, over-the-counter medications may help reduce the symptoms. These include:

Antacids. Antacids reduce symptoms by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach. These medications usually provide immediate relief.

H2 blockers. H2 blockers reduce the amount of stomach acid to lower the likelihood of heartburn. They generally work within an hour of taking them and provide symptom relief for eight to 12 hours.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs block acid production in the stomach and are best for those who have frequent or chronic acid reflux. Most are available by prescription only.

What If I Don’t Treat My Acid Reflux?

If left untreated, chronic acid reflux can lead to serious health complications. Over time, stomach acids may lead to irritation, hemorrhaging, swelling and ulcers in the esophagus. Conditions associated with untreated acid reflux include:

Erosive esophagitis. Caused by inflammation in the esophagus, esophagitis may cause bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the esophagus.

Esophageal stricture. When the esophagus becomes too narrow, it can lead to difficulty swallowing and a feeling as if there is food stuck in your throat.

Barrett’s esophagus. Occurs when the cells and tissue lining your esophagus become more like intestinal cells. Some people with this condition may develop a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Chronic Reflux? Time To See the Doctor

If you’ve been dealing with chronic acid reflux, it may be time to see the doctor. Talk to your doctor about acid reflux if you:

  • Don’t feel relief from over-the-counter medications, especially if you’ve been taking them for eight weeks or longer

  • Experience persistent nausea and vomiting

  • Experience unexpected weight loss

  • Have difficulty swallowing

  • See blood in your stool

Your doctor will work with you to discuss your symptoms and find the right treatment for you.

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