Managing GERD: How to prevent acid reflux and GERD symptoms

GERD is a common digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus — the tube connecting the mouth and stomach — and it can result in acid reflux symptoms like heartburn.

Acid reflux vs. GERD

As an advanced minimally invasive gastrointestinal surgeon and part of the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Esophageal Diseases, I see many people who experience acid reflux symptoms. However, they aren’t diagnosed with GERD unless it’s mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or if they suffer severe acid reflux at least once a week.

Family gatherings and social dining can be stressful for people with GERD. They need to be careful when indulging in things like sweet treats or alcohol at parties.

It’s important to take time to enjoy yourself. Being mindful of what and how you eat will help you to do so. Here are six tips for enjoying yourself while managing GERD symptoms.

Eat slowly, and avoid overeating.

Research shows that rapid food intake produces more GERD episodes than when people eat slower. Eating slowly allows your body time to feel full, which will decrease your chances of overeating. Overeating puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter muscle. Commonly referred to as the LES, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle is a ring-like muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach. When the LES is weakened, acid can flow back into the esophagus and trigger a GERD episode.

Eat at least 1-2 hours before bed.

It’s more difficult for your food to digest when you’re lying down, so eating earlier and staying upright will allow your food time to break down.

Minimize carbonated beverages and alcohol. Drink more water.

Carbonated beverages and alcohol can cause relaxation of the LES muscle and trigger GERD. If you drink more water, it will clear the esophagus and reduce acid reflux.

Avoid the triggers that give you GERD symptoms.

While everyone may have different triggers, a few of the common foods and drinks that can lead to a GERD episode are:

  • Garlic
  • Raw onions
  • Chocolate
  • Red wine
  • Peppermint
  • Citrus fruits

Keep your preferred antacid on standby.

Prepare for a potential GERD episode by keeping your over-the-counter antacids or medicine prescribed by your doctor handy.

Center for Esophageal Diseases

The University of Chicago Medicine's Center for Esophageal Diseases is one of the few centers in the nation solely dedicated to diagnosing and treating disorders of the esophagus.

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Yalini Vigneswaran, MD

Yalini Vigneswaran, MD, MS

Yalini Vigneswaran, MD, MS, is an advanced minimally invasive gastrointestinal surgeon who specializes in esophageal and gastric disorders, including motility disorders, esophageal and gastroesophageal junction cancers, reflux disease and paraesophageal hernias.

See Dr. Vigneswaran's bio