A few lifestyle changes are worth trying before resorting to drugs for controlling gastroesophageal reflux.
If you are sounding a little hoarse and have a sore throat, you may be bracing for a cold or a bout of the flu. But if you’ve had these symptoms for a while, they might be caused not by a virus but by a valve—your lower esophageal sphincter. That’s the muscle that controls the passage between the esophagus and stomach, and when it doesn’t close completely, stomach acid and food flow back into the esophagus. The medical term for this process is gastroesophageal reflux; the backward flow of acid is called acid reflux.
Acid reflux can cause sore throats and hoarseness and may literally leave a bad taste in your mouth. When acid reflux produces chronic symptoms, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn—pain in the upper abdomen and chest that sometimes feel like you’re having a heart attack.
Three conditions—poor clearance of food or acid from the esophagus, too much acid in the stomach, and delayed stomach emptying—contribute to acid reflux, says Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach: Taking Control of Your Digestive Health.
If you’ve been having repeated episodes of heartburn—or any other symptoms of acid reflux—you might try the following:
1. Eat sparingly and slowly
When the stomach is very full, there can be more reflux into the esophagus. If it fits into your schedule, you may want to try what is sometimes called “grazing”—eating small meals more frequently rather than three large meals daily.
2. Avoid certain foods
People with acid reflux were once instructed to eliminate all but the blandest foods from their diets. But that’s no longer the case. “We’ve evolved from the days when you couldn’t eat anything,” Dr. Wolf says. But there are still some foods that are more likely than others to trigger reflux, including mint, fatty foods, spicy foods, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coffee, tea, chocolate, and alcohol. If you eat any of these foods regularly, you might try eliminating them to see if doing so controls your reflux, and then try adding them back one by one. The Foodicine Health website at www.foodicinehealth.org has diet tips for people with acid reflux and GERD as well as for other gastrointestinal disorders.
3. Don’t drink carbonated beverages
They make you burp, which sends acid into the esophagus. Drink flat water instead of sparkling water.