Gastroesophageal reflux is a rather common condition that we all experience from time to time. It refers to the upward flow of digestive juices or acids that escape from the stomach to travel up to the esophagus. This is quite common after eating meals, but it may be problematic and indicative of GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, when this becomes a common occurrence. Home remedies for GERD or acid reflux can help to relieve the symptoms, but you need to seek medical attention, as it treatment could vary depending on the underlying cause.
What is GERD?
Under normal circumstances the lower esophageal sphincter, which is a muscle band, acts like a one way valve, preventing the upward flow of undigested food and digestive juices, while allowing food or fluids to pass into the stomach. If there is a problem with the functioning of the sphincter or if there is damage to it, the contents of the stomach tend to escape and rise up into the esophagus. Because of the acid content of these digestive juices, the condition is also referred to as acid reflux.
For most of us acid reflux is mainly a problem because of the annoyance and discomfort experienced, as food or fluid can be tasted towards the back of the mouth. This can be a rather distasteful and unpleasant experience to say the least. For some individuals however it may be more than just unpleasant as the acid content of the digestive fluid can cause irritation to the lining of the esophagus. This results in a burning sensation that is described as heartburn and is one of the main symptoms of GERD. While occasional episodes of acid reflux and heartburn may not warrant any concern, frequent episodes, such as more than twice week, can be described as GERD. Although GERD is not a very serious health condition, it can pose some serious health risks if neglected.
GERD can affect people of any age group or sex, but it is more prevalent among older individuals. Treatment for GERD is usually quite effective and to a large extent, the condition can also be controlled with lifestyle and diet changes and natural GERD remedies. The effectiveness of natural treatment will however depend on the severity of the problem and the underlying cause.
Symptoms of GERD
GERD will cause some of these symptoms, but if you do experience any of these symptoms, it is not necessary that you suffer from the condition. The condition is most likely present if you experience any of these symptoms on a frequent basis, such as at least twice in a week.
The most common sign of GERD is persistent or recurrent heartburn:
- Heartburn can be disturbing to those unfamiliar with the condition because of its location. It causes a burning sensation towards the center of the chest. The pain commonly begins in the upper abdomen but spreads up to the throat.
- Heartburn may occur sporadically or it could last for as long as two hours.
- Heartburn is usually more severe after eating a meal.
- Heartburn usually occurs at night as it is more problematic when you are in the reclined position or bending over.
- Physical activity does not aggravate the pain or cause it to worsen.
- Although heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD it is not necessary for you to experience heartburn, even if you suffer from GERD.
You may also experience some other symptoms of GERD like:
- The regurgitation of digestive juices or undigested food into the throat when lying down or bending forward.
- A bitter taste in the mouth because of regurgitation.
- A constant dry cough and possible hoarseness or soreness of the throat, particularly when you wake up.
GERD in children is a lot less common, but the symptoms in children could also include vomiting, coughing and respiratory disorders.
Causes of GERD
The causes for GERD are not completely clear, because of the combination of factors and circumstances that can lead to the development of the condition. In most people who suffer from GERD the functioning of the sphincter is impaired, as it relaxes even while the rest of the esophageal apparatus is functioning. In some cases the problem may be attributed to physical abnormalities lie the presence of a hiatal hernia. This is a condition in which part of the stomach and lower esophageal sphincter rise above the diaphragm; whereas normally the diaphragm would help the sphincter contain the stomach acids. Acid reflux is a common problem for patients afflicted with hiatal hernia, and may result in GERD. Hiatal hernia can afflict anyone, but is more prevalent among adults past the age of fifty.
There are other factors too that could contribute to the development of GERD and these include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking is particularly bad as it weakens the esophageal sphincter
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Certain foods like citrus fruits, chocolates, fatty and fried foods, garlic and onions, spicy foods, and tomato based foods and sauces can also contribute to the development of GERD or aggravate the condition.
Remedies for GERD
GERD natural remedies can help to control the condition by providing relief from the symptoms or by lessening their severity. Lifestyle changes can also help to control the condition to a large extent. There are no natural cures for GERD however, as no home remedy for GERD can reverse damage to the esophagus or correct structural abnormalities. The use of natural treatments in combination with conventional treatment can help greatly however.
- Stress is not a cause for GERD, but high levels of stress can aggravate the problem and increase the severity of symptoms. Relaxation techniques can help greatly and could include simple meditative or breathing exercises. You could also take up some form of light exercise like aerobics or yoga to de-stress. Moreover, physical activity like walking or swimming not only helps relieve stress, but any form of exercise also helps improve the digestive functions and this could minimize the symptoms.
- Acupuncture and acupressure are both popular alternative therapies, but their effectiveness remains unverified, although some studies claim that they can be of help. If you do wish to try out such therapies, make sure you consult your doctor first.
- Enthusiasts of herbal medicine claim that some herbs like licorice and chamomile can help to relive symptoms of GERD. While some herbs may be very effective as home remedies for reflux, it is important that you first consult your doctor before trying out any herbal treatment because of the high risk of drug interactions and toxicity from some herbs.
Diet for GERD
Although your diet is unlikely to be responsible for the condition of GERD, following GERD diet can be a lot more beneficial than trying out any gastroesophageal reflux disease home remedy. This is because the food you eat and your eating habits have a direct bearing on the severity of symptoms and frequency with which they occur.
- Eating smaller meals through the day instead of two large meals can help, as it reduces the stress on your digestive system and also requires lower digestive acid production as compared to digestion of a large meal.
- Avoid foods that increase the severity of symptoms and further compromise the function of the esophageal sphincter. This could include fried, oily, fatty and junk foods, caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, citric foods, tomato based foods, and spicy foods.
- Make sure that your last meal of the day is at least three hours prior to your bedtime. Eating soon before going to bed greatly increases the frequency and likelihood of acid reflux and heartburn acting up during the night. This is because the digestive juices can travel back up a lot more easily, as you are in the reclined position. Eating meals a few hours before bedtime gives your digestive system a chance to process the food and acid production decreases by the time you get to bed. For the same reason it is important that you do not lie down soon after a meal, no matter what the time of the day.
Suggestion for GERD
Lifestyle modifications are an essential aspect of treatment and self care to manage and cope with the symptoms of heartburn. They can have as significant an effect on the condition as does your diet:
- When you lie in bed, try not to lie flat and instead keep your head a little elevated, as gravity will help keep those digestive juices down.
- It is important that you quit smoking, as smoking severely weakens the esophageal sphincter.
- Obesity can severely aggravate GERD symptoms, so try and shed those extra pounds or maintain your weight if not obese. Try not to aim for drastic weight loss with restrictive diets, instead adopt a slow phased weight loss plan.
If the condition does not respond to lifestyle and diet modifications, make it a point to consult your doctor as GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus and puts you at risk of other complications.
- J. Patrick Waring, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), In: Editor-in-Chief: Leonard Johnson, Editor(s)-in-Chief, Encyclopedia of Gastroenterology, Elsevier, New York, 2004, Pages 203-210, ISBN 9780123868602, 10.1016/B0-12-386860-2/00335-X.
- M Kulig, M Nocon, M Vieth, A Leodolter, D Jaspersen, J Labenz, W Meyer-Sabellek, M Stolte, T Lind, P Malfertheiner, S.N Willich, Risk factors of gastroesophageal reflux disease: methodology and first epidemiological results of the ProGERD study, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Volume 57, Issue 6, June 2004, Pages 580-589, ISSN 0895-4356, 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2003.10.010.
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