Is it a simple case of acid reflux, or it is GERD?

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows back up from your stomach into your esophagus. If this happens on a consistent basis (more than twice a week) and doesn’t get better, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, symptoms of GERD are much worse and can include chest pain, breathing problems, and trouble swallowing. On occasion, it can bring up bits of food or sour liquid into your mouth. In the United States, about 20 percent of people are affected by GERD and when left untreated can cause serious complications.

The good news is that GERD can be treated and even prevented by avoiding certain foods. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications like antacids; H2 receptor blockers like Axid, Pepcid, and Pepcid AC, can be used to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are available in OTC medications including Prevacid 24 HR, Prilosec, and Nexium. Prescription PPIs include Dexilant, Kapidex, Protonix, Aciphex, and Vimovo. Both prescription-strength and OTC PPIs seem to work equally well in preventing GERD symptoms. 

Some people have reported benefits from herbal remedies including chamomile, licorice root, marshmallow root, slippery elm, and ginger. Try them in hot tea (caffeine-free), or chew on some dried ginger to help calm an upset stomach. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any and all treatments you are trying as they may interfere with certain medications. If your GERD symptoms do not seem to improve within a few weeks, talk to your doctor about other possible causes and treatment options.

Risk factors for GERD include obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, and connective tissue disorders. Lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, eating large meals, lying down or going to bed shortly after eating, eating deep-fried or spicy foods, beans, onions, red meat, and citrus fruits, drinking soft drinks, coffee, or alcohol can raise your risk of GERD. Even using aspirin or ibuprofen can raise your risk. 

Instead, eating lean, skinned, and baked or sauteed chicken breasts, brown rice, and drinking plenty of water will help keep GERD symptoms away. Oatmeal with fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew are low-acid and healthy breakfast choices. Root vegetables including potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips cooked are full of healthy complex carbs and digestible fiber. Just don’t cook them with butter or margarine, or with onions and garlic that can irritate your acid reflux.

In rare cases, GERD can cause serious complications including inflammation of the esophagus, narrowing or tightening of the esophagus, permanent changes to the lining of the esophagus, esophageal cancer, asthma, or even dental problems due to acid reflux.

If you are in the twenty percent of people who experience GERD, lifestyle changes and treatment options are available to help keep the reflux at bay. Talk to your doctor or one of our pharmacists to find out what’s right for you.