Acid reflux. You and millions of other Americans know it by the uncomfortable bloating, belching, and burping that interrupts daily life. Not only are the symptoms it causes frustrating and embarrassing, but leaving it unmanaged can lead to serious complications, including damage to your esophagus.
Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of simple things you can do to stop acid reflux from becoming a problem.
Here, our team of specialists at Prime Choice Family Clinic & Urgent Care in Frisco, Texas, take a closer look at acid reflux and share seven ways you can control it on your own
What causes acid reflux?
At the entrance of your stomach is a ring of muscle that acts like a valve; we call it the lower esophageal sphincter. This important structure opens to let food pass through into your stomach and then immediately closes to keep your stomach acid from backing up into your esophagus.
Sometimes, this valve doesn’t close all the way or it opens too often, which allows the stomach acid and other contents to move into your esophagus. The result is a range of symptoms, including:
- Chest discomfort
- Dysphagia, or the feeling of food being stuck in your throat
- Frequent or chronic hiccups
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bloody or black stools
Hiatal hernias are the most common cause of acid reflux, but other causes include eating large meals, lying down shortly after eating, snacking too close to bedtime, and eating certain foods. Your risk also increases if you’re overweight or obese, a smoker, or pregnant.
There are medications — and even some operations — that can effectively treat acid reflux, but in many cases, you can find relief with diet and lifestyle changes, such as the following.
1. Eat mindfully
One of the keys to managing acid reflux is simply to adjust the size of your portions and how frequently you eat them.
But that can be tough to do these days. One study found that over the years, the food industry has changed to accommodate larger and larger meals. Even the average plate size has grown 3 centimeters in diameter since the early 1990s — and we’ve taken to filling every bit of it. In the 1950s, a hamburger at a typical restaurant was 3.9 oz. Now, restaurants serve hamburgers that weigh in at a whopping 12 oz.
The result? Gut-busting meals that bloat your stomach and cause acid to back up into your esophagus.
The trick is to master the art of grazing. That means eating mindfully and consuming smaller meals more frequently instead of three large meals.
2. Avoid triggers
We won’t tell you to cut out all of the fun from your diet, but there are a few foods that you may want to avoid or at least eat sparingly if you want to manage acid reflux. They include:
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
Carbonated drinks that make you burp can also open the door for stomach acid to creep into your esophagus.
Try eliminating any of these foods that you eat regularly, and then add them back in one at a time to see which ones set off acid reflux.
3. Take it slowly
If you struggle with acid reflux, it’s best to take it easy after you’ve eaten. You can go for a walk after dinner, but any activity that’s strenuous or requires you to bend over can set off acid reflux.
Additionally, we recommend that you give your stomach some time (about three hours) to digest your meal before taking a nap or going to bed. Standing or sitting can help keep your stomach acid in its place.
4. Change your sleeping position
Ideally, your head should be anywhere from 6-8 inches higher than your feet to keep your stomach acid from backing up while you sleep. You can ensure this by installing extra-tall bed risers on the back legs of your bed. A foam wedge underneath your upper body can also achieve a similar effect.
5. Kick the habit
Not only does smoking open the door for any number of attacks on your health, but it also relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter and exacerbates acid reflux. If you smoke, quitting may relieve your acid reflux.
6. Maintain a healthy weight
As your weight increases, the muscles that support your lower esophageal sphincter spread, decreasing the amount of pressure holding it closed. This, in turn, can allow stomach acid to get into your esophagus. Talk to us about healthy weight loss strategies, so you can both manage your overall health and win the battle against acid reflux.
7. Evaluate your prescriptions
Some prescriptions, such as postmenopausal estrogen, antidepressants, and anti-inflammatory painkillers relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Others, such as some medications that aim to increase bone density, can irritate the esophagus.
Never stop taking prescription medication without consulting a doctor first, but do let us know all the medications you take regularly, as it can help us create a more customized treatment plan.
If you’d like more information about acid reflux and how to manage it, call 469-920-8374 or book an appointment online with Prime Choice Family Clinic & Urgent Care today.