Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Acid Reflux Lifestyle Changes
GERD/GORD and Acid Reflux: Lifestyle Changes
Gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux is the flow of stomach contents back into your esophagus. Occasional reflux is common, but with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD/GORD), it lasts longer and irritates your esophagus.
Managing GERD often includes prescription and/or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. There are also several lifestyle changes that may help relieve symptoms of GERD. They are:
Optimal sleep position (for those with nighttime symptoms)
Cautious use of medicines
Carrying extra weight and gaining weight both increase the risk of developing acid reflux and GERD. Excess weight is also a factor in worsening symptoms. Consequently, weight loss is a significant part of treating GERD - it can reduce and even eliminate symptoms.
Smoking is considered a risk factor for GERD. Smoking cessation, on the other hand, reduces the risk.
Diet & Food Triggers
GERD treatment guidelines don’t actually include recommendations to eliminate all foods that are linked to GERD symptoms, nor is there a special GERD diet.
However, there are foods that may trigger or worsen your acid reflux symptoms - you should avoid those foods that you’ve identified as triggers. If you are unsure, keep a food diary to record the foods you eat and any symptoms that follow.
There are also some foods that are protective and can help prevent symptoms. Try to include these foods in your diet.
If you have certain foods in your diet, they can help prevent reflux symptoms. They include high-fiber, water-rich, and high-alkaline foods and drinks.
Fiber helps you feel full or less hungry, which makes it less likely that you’ll overeat. Overeating increases the chance of acid reflux. Some high-fiber foods are:
Vegetables: asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, sweet potatoes
Chickpeas, lentils, nuts
These foods help to dilute and weaken stomach acids.
Herbal, ginger tea
Melons, like watermelon
Celery, cucumbers, lettuce
These foods help to weaken stomach acids.
Here are some suggestions for foods you can substitute for those that trigger your acid reflux symptoms.
In addition to staying away from foods that trigger reflux symptoms and including those that help prevent them, the following may also help:
Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Instead of three meals a day, eating smaller amounts throughout the day makes it less likely that you’ll overeat.
If you have nighttime symptoms, wait at least 2 to 3 hours after eating before going to bed - whether it’s a late dinner or a large snack. In other words, avoid lying down after eating. A small snack (without foods that trigger symptoms) is okay.
Your sleep position can help lessen GERD symptoms at night.
Elevating Your Upper Body
Instead of lying down, elevate your upper body. You can use a wedge-shaped pillow, mattress device, or special bed. Avoid using pillows to elevate your head only. This can actually increase pressure on your stomach and worsen reflux symptoms.
You can also elevate the head of your bed at least 6 to 8 inches using wood or plastic risers or cement blocks.
Sleeping On Your Left Side
Sleep on your left side if you’re a side sleeper. Research shows sleeping on the right side results in more symptoms in people with acid reflux. As with elevating the head of the bed, left side-lying is thought to decrease the risk of stomach acid irritating the esophagus.
Many different medicines can cause heartburn, irritate the esophagus or worsen GERD symptoms. The following table contains some of the common ones.
Talk With Your Doctor
If you have acid reflux or GERD/GORD, ask your doctor if any of the medicines you take, prescriptions, over-the-counter, and supplements, can affect your symptoms.
They may recommend that you change the amount of, or what time you take the medicine. They may also recommend that you stop taking the medicine and prescribe something different. However, don’t stop taking your medicines without checking with your doctor.
Medicine That May Worsen GERD
*Note: The brand name examples are available in the U.S.
Help To Prevent Symptoms
The following measures help prevent worsening heartburn and esophageal injury due to your medicines:
Take all of your medicines with 8 ounces (237 mL) of water.
Don’t take any medicines while lying down.
Wait at least 30 minutes to lie down after taking medicine.
Take your medicine with food, unless your doctor or pharmacist tells you otherwise.
For More Information
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoke-Free. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://smokefree.gov/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Be Tobacco Free. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (2017). Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/choosing-a-safe-successful-weight-loss-program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Losing Weight. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html