Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. Those will certainly be the first steps to try. Sometimes, stronger medication or surgery is ultimately necessary to manage symptoms for your comfort.
Changes in Diet and Lifestyle
One of the most effective ways to treat acid reflux disease is to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and stay away from foods and beverages that are likely to trigger symptoms. Foods to avoid when you have GERD include:
- Foods that boost the amount of acid your stomach makes: Fatty or fried foods, whole and chocolate milk, spearmint and peppermint, chocolate, cooking oils and creamy soups
- Foods that irritate the esophagus: Tomatoes and citrus fruits including grapefruits, oranges and pineapples, as well as alcoholic, carbonated or caffeinated beverages
- Foods that make you swallow more air: Hard candy and gum
Along with adjusting eating patterns, you can also take other steps in your daily life to minimize GERD symptoms. Your doctor may recommend that you try one or more of the following:
- Stop smoking.
- Don't eat at least two to three hours before lying down.
- Sleep in a chair for daytime naps.
- Put blocks under the head of your bed to raise it at least 4 to 6 inches.
- Avoid wearing clothes or belts that are tight.
- Strive to maintain a healthy weight through exercise or diet.
- Ask your doctor if your medication may be triggering GERD symptoms.
Over-the-Counter or Prescription Medications
You’re probably already familiar with common antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids or Mylanta. These over-the-counter treatments are designed to neutralize your stomach acid through chemicals that are bases — the opposite of acids.
But antacids don’t work for everyone, and that’s why there are many other medication options available to you. Your doctor may suggest that you try a foaming agent that coats your stomach to prevent reflux, or a medication that decreases the acid production itself.
When it comes to acid reducers, there are a couple of different methods of attack. A histamine 2 (H2) blocker targets histamine, which is a chemical your immune system makes, so that your stomach produces less acid. Popular H2 blockers include things like Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac. On the other hand, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) act by blocking the enzyme in your stomach that makes acid. Some common proton pump inhibitors are Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium.
Often medications are available in both an over-the-counter and prescription strength. Your doctor will help you decide which type, or possibly even what combination, of medication would be right for you. (Note: Don’t combine more than one type of antacid with other medicines without your doctor’s guidance.)
If you have exhausted other treatment options for GERD and you’re still not getting the relief you need to enjoy life to the fullest, there is a surgical procedure that can help prevent further acid reflux. Through what’s known as Nissen fundoplication, your surgeon wraps the upper part of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it. Essentially, an artificial valve is being created using the top of your stomach, and food and liquids can still pass through. This procedure is also used to repair a hiatal hernia if present.
Often a Nissen fundoplication surgery can be done laparoscopically with a few tiny incisions in the abdomen. This approach is less invasive and offers a faster recovery time than making a larger open incision in the abdomen or chest, though sometimes the latter is necessary.