GERD: Controlling Heartburn by Changing Your Habits
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be painful
and, if allowed to continue, can lead to complications including esophagitis.
Esophagitis is irritation or inflammation of the esophagus.
can make changes to your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms of GERD. Here
are some things to try:
Change your eating habits.
It's best to eat several small meals
instead of two or three large meals.
After you eat, wait 2 to 3
hours before you lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good
Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make GERD worse. They relax
the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
Spicy foods, foods
that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make GERD
symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a
certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get
Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
you have GERD symptoms at night, raise the head of your bed
6 in. (15 cm) to
8 in. (20 cm) by putting the
frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress.
(Adding extra pillows does not work.)
Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can
How can you modify your lifestyle to relieve symptoms of GERD?
There are many changes you can make to your lifestyle that can help to
relieve or reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These are
Quitting tobacco use
If you smoke or chew tobacco,
stop. The nicotine from tobacco relaxes the valve between the esophagus and
stomach (lower esophageal sphincter). This can allow stomach acid and juices,
the chemicals that break down food in the stomach, to back up (reflux) into the
esophagus, which causes heartburn.
Because the nicotine in tobacco
is addicting, stopping the use of tobacco is more difficult than simply
changing a habit. Those who successfully quit using tobacco usually use a
combination of strategies that may include:
Professional counseling, either by telephone
or in person.
The use of medicines, to help overcome the addiction
Participation in a proven smoking cessation
Having a support group of peers who are also quitting or who do
Using more than one of these strategies greatly improves
your chances of successfully quitting. Quitting tobacco use may require several
eating habits, losing weight if necessary, and avoiding foods that increase
symptoms of GERD may make heartburn less likely to occur. Take your spouse or
partner along with you when you go to your doctor to discuss diet habits. It
will be easier to make changes in your diet if your family understands what you
need to do and why.
Changes you may want to make include avoiding
chocolate, peppermint, and alcohol. These can all make GERD worse by relaxing
the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. It also may be a good idea to
eat smaller, more frequent meals.
If you are overweight, lose
weight. Being overweight puts additional pressure on your stomach and increases
the likelihood of heartburn occurring. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can
Certain foods can be associated with reflux. Though they
will not cause GERD, eating these foods can make the symptoms worse, and
avoiding them can help reduce heartburn. These include citrus fruits, mint (such as peppermint and spearmint), fatty and
fried foods, garlic and onions, spicy foods, and tomato-based foods like
spaghetti sauce and pizza. Some people notice that their symptoms get worse
after drinking coffee, tea, soda, or anything with caffeine. If you notice that your symptoms are worse after
eating a specific food, you may want to stop eating it and see if your symptoms
Reducing pressure on your stomach
on your stomach may push stomach juices into your esophagus, causing heartburn.
Some ways to reduce heartburn include the following:
After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you
lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good idea. When you are lying down, the
contents of your stomach can push against the valve between the esophagus and
stomach (lower esophageal sphincter). Sitting up allows gravity to help food
and stomach juices from the esophagus drain back into your stomach.
Avoid tight clothing over your stomach. Tight belts,
waistbands, or panty hose may push against your stomach and make your heartburn
Use care when lifting and bending. Bending over tends to
increase the amount of stomach acid that can get into your esophagus. When
lifting, bend your knees to avoid bending over at the waist.
Improving sleep position and habits
head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm)
to 8 in. (20 cm) will help keep
stomach acid from flowing into your esophagus when you are sleeping. You can do
this by putting blocks underneath your bed frame or by placing a foam wedge
under the head of your mattress. Using extra pillows will not work.
Lying down soon after eating will also increase the chance of getting
heartburn. After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night
snacks aren't a good idea.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerPeter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.