Pay attention to heartburn sand treat it, especially if you feel symptoms often. Over time, ongoing reflux can damage the lining of your esophagus and cause serious problems. The good news is that making changes to certain habits can go a long way to preventing heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The following tips will help you avoid heartburn and other GERD symptoms. If these measures are not working, talk to your doctor.
First, avoid foods and beverages that can trigger reflux, such as:
- Caffeine, carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomatoes and tomato sauces
- Spicy or fatty foods, full-fat dairy products
- Peppermint and spearmint
Next, try changing your eating habits:
Eat smaller meals. A full stomach puts extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chance that food will reflux.
Avoid eating or lying down within 2-3 hours of bedtime. Lying down with a full stomach results in stomach contents pressing harder against the LES.
Avoid bending over or exercising just after eating.
Make other lifestyle changes as needed:
Lose weight if you are overweight. Obesity increases abdominal pressure, which can push stomach contents up into the esophagus. In some cases, GERD symptoms disappear completely after an overweight person loses 10-15 pounds.
Stop smoking. Chemicals in cigarette smoke weaken the LES.
Sleep with your head raised about 6 inches. Sleeping with the head higher than the stomach reduces the likelihood that partially digested food will reflux into the esophagus. Place books, bricks, or blocks securely under the legs at the head of your bed. Or use a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress. Sleeping on extra pillows does NOT work well for relieving heartburn.
Avoid tight-fitting belts or garments around the waist. They squeeze the stomach, and may force food to reflux.
Reduce stress. Try yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
If you still do not have full relief, try over-the-counter medications:
Antacids, like Maalox or Mylanta, work by neutralizing stomach acid.
H2 blockers, like Pepcid AC, Tagamet, and Zantac, reduce stomach acid production.
Proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec OTC, stop nearly all stomach acid production.
Call the doctor if,
- You vomit material that is bloody or black like coffee grounds.
- Your stools are black (like tar) or maroon.
- The burning sensation is accompanied by chest squeezing, crushing, or pressure. Sometimes a heart attack is mistaken for heartburn.
- The problem becomes frequent or doesn't go away with a few weeks of self-care.
- You start losing weight unintentionally.
- You have difficulty swallowing (food feels stuck as it goes down).
- You have a persistent, unexplained cough or wheezing.
- Your symptoms get worse with antacids or H2 blockers.
- You think that one of your medications may be causing heartburn. DO NOT change or stop your medication on your own, without discussing with your doctor.