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Signs, Symptoms & Treatment of GERD: Be Happier this Holiday Weekend

Holidays are a time for more gathering, more socializing and more eating. For people with GERD, this can take the happy out of a holiday celebration. So, as Memorial Day weekend approaches, learn more from Dr. Adeyemi Lawal of WakeMed Physician Practices – Gastroenterology about the lifestyle modifications that can help you manage GERD.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is a condition where stomach contents containing a mixture of food, acid and bile come back into the esophagus to cause disturbing symptoms.

Heartburn is the most common symptom, a burning sensation that occurs in the central upper abdomen and may travel up behind the breastbone into the throat. This usually occurs two to three hours after meals or at night. Other symptoms include chest pain that can mimic a heart attack, a choking sensation, sore throat or hoarseness/loss of voice upon awakening from sleep, and even a regurgitation of food when bending over or lying down flat. Less common symptoms include frequent throat clearing, chronic cough, recurrent pneumonia, chronic sinus infection and night-time asthma. Very rarely esophageal cancer can occur as a complication of chronic long-standing reflux disease.

GERD is more common in people who are obese and in those with hiatal hernia, a condition where a portion of the stomach is within the chest. GERD is not preventable and requires a doctor’s attention when persistent heartburn is affecting quality of life and when a person finds it difficult or painful to swallow, has chest pain, vomits blood or is losing weight due to the condition.

Mild GERD can be managed with diet and lifestyle modifications. Here are some tips:

  • Those who are overweight or obese should make efforts to lose some weight.
  • Avoid tight fitting clothing and garments to reduce pressure on the abdomen.
  • Avoid foods that lead to acid reflux such as alcohol, fatty foods, chocolate, excessive caffeine, peppermint and tomatoes.
  • Wait three to four hours after a meal before lying down.
  • Avoid late night snacks.
  • Elevate the head of the bed to 30 degrees so that gravity can assist in preventing stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus.
  • Quit smoking! Smoking decreases saliva production thereby decreasing the ability to neutralize acid or reflex swallow to push acid back into the stomach.

Over-the-counter medications such as Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet can also help when used once or twice daily, intermittently for infrequent symptoms. People with symptoms of moderate to severe GERD or GERD-related complications may require further evaluation with endoscopy and long-term treatment with Proton pump inhibitors such as Pantoprazole (Protonix), Esomeprazole (Nexium), Omeprazole (Prilosec), Lansoprazole (Prevacid), Rabeprazole (Aciphex) and Dexlansoprasole (Kapidex), in addition to lifestyle modification.

If you are not yet receiving treatment for GERD but feel that you need to, contact WakeMed Physician Practices – Gastroenterology at 919-350-5318 or visit us online for more information about our practice.

1. Dent J, El-Serag HB, et al. Epidemiology of gastro-esophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut. 2005;54:710.