It’s no coincidence that Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Awareness Week is observed in late fall, when holiday overeating often begins.
GERD is an ongoing condition in which acid from the stomach flows into the esophagus. While many people have occasional bouts of acid reflux and heartburn, individuals with GERD experience it several times a week or more.
Over time, GERD not only impacts quality of life, it can also be damaging to the body: when stomach acid continually washes into the esophagus, it can cause tissue damage that can lead to esophageal cancer. GERD can also cause ear, nose and throat (ENT) and respiratory problems such as coughing and chronic sore throat.
What Causes GERD
GERD can be caused by the improper functioning or weakening of a sphincter (valve) either at the top of the stomach or the bottom of the esophagus. When this happens, acid is released into the esophagus. Symptoms can include heartburn, belching, bad breath, nausea, difficulty swallowing and more.
Sometimes people can develop GERD by practicing unhealthy nutrition or lifestyle habits — which also means, by changing these habits, they can reduce their risk of developing GERD. GERD occurs more commonly in people who:
- Are overweight, which puts pressure on the abdomen and can cause a valve to leak
- Smoke or are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke
- Take medications such as antihistamines, some asthma drugs and antidepressants
8 Tips to Avoid GERD, Acid Reflux Symptoms
Many of the habits that lead to GERD happen during the winter holidays when food and sweet treats are abundant, making it easier to overeat. Here are some tips to help you avoid GERD symptoms over the holidays:
- Wear loose clothes and avoid belts or anything that is tight around your abdomen.
- Sit up straight when eating. If you hunch over, it may cause the esophageal valve to open, releasing burning acid into your food pipe.
- Mentally prepare yourself before you face the dinner table. Decide what and how much you will eat.
- Chew your food well, eat slowly and stop when you’re full.
- Before taking a second helping at a holiday feast, pause for a few minutes. This will give your digestive system a chance to process the food you have already consumed. You may even realize you are too full for seconds.
- Avoid foods known to cause reflux, such as those that are fatty or fried. Also, avoid eating foods you know are problematic for you personally. Don’t give yourself permission to eat them as a special treat since it is a holiday, or you may just regret it later.
- Take a walk after your meal and invite a family member to join you. You’ll be helping them avoid GERD, too.
- Avoid lying down for at least 2-3 hours after eating. Symptoms will worsen if you lie down or bend over.
If you believe you have GERD now, don’t pop just another antacid — schedule an appointment with a doctor. Your doctor can prescribe medications and other therapies that can help you feel better.