Acid reflux is the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. During an episode of reflux, you might have a sour taste in the back of your throat or experience a burning sensation in your chest, also known as heartburn. Occasional episodes of acid reflux can be resolved with lifestyle changes; however, frequent episodes of acid reflux can eventually lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD. GERD is often characterized by frequent heartburn and regurgitation and usually requires medication.
So, if you do have occasional episodes of acid reflux, here’s what you can do to combat it:
1. Eat smaller meals.
When you stuff your face with food, you increase your risk of having reflux. Your stomach lining has elastic properties that allow it to expand and contract. When you overfill your stomach, it will expand to hold the food, but that will weaken your esophageal sphincter (the flap that separates your esophagus from your stomach) and allow acid to easily flow back into your esophagus, causing that burning sensation in your chest. Just like if you’re filling up a water balloon, if you never stop filling it with water, eventually the water will stop filling the balloon and flow back into the faucet.
2. Lose weight.
Excess weight puts pressure on your stomach and your esophageal sphincter.
3. Avoid foods that trigger heartburn:
- Fried, fatty foods
4. Avoid exercise or laying down 30 minutes after a meal.
If you exercise or lie down immediately after eating a large meal, it is easier for food to surpass your esophageal sphincter and flow back into your esophagus. This is not to say that it will happen every time you lay down after a meal, but it certainly increases your chances of having acid reflux.
5. Try laying on your right side.
When you lay on your right side, gravity works with you to empty the contents of your stomach into your intestines. This prevents stomach contents from backing up into your esophagus.
If these things don’t do the trick, you can also resort to over-the-counter medications for occasional episodes of acid reflux. There are 3 main medications that address acid reflux in different ways.
- Antacids (Tums)
Antacids do not address the actual cause of the acid reflux. Instead, they merely relieve the symptoms by neutralizing your stomach acid.
- H2 blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid AC, Zantac)
H2 (histamine) blockers antagonize the action of histamine, which reduces stomach acid secretion by 90%. However, if there is an underlying cause for the reflux like peptic ulcers, this medication will not treat them, it will only prevent them as long as you stay on the medication.
- Proton pump inhibitors (Prisolec, Prevacid, Nexium)
PPIs decrease stomach acid production by blocking the proton pump in the cells lining the stomach. Long term use has been associated with hip fracture, and this medication will also not treat any underlying causes.
Obviously, if you suspect anything serious, go see a doctor. My goal is to simply educate you on the physiology of acid reflux and the mechanisms of these medications so that you can enjoy your holiday season heartburn-free!