If you’ve been diagnosed with acid reflux, you may have a decision to make. Your doctor probably explained to you that the condition is caused a dysfunctional lower esophageal sphincter, the valve at the junction of your esophagus and stomach that’s supposed to keep stomach contents from backing up your the esophagus. You may also be aware that, aside from stomach surgery, there really is no definitive cure for reflux–no miracle drug to make the sphincter behave normally.
Your doctor may also have prescribed a strong acid reducer such as Prilosec. You might take that for a few weeks to allow your esophagus, which may have been damaged from the acid backup, to heal. But when the prescription runs out, then what? Refill the prescription, and take the drug indefinitely? Go for stomach surgery? Do nothing and continue to suffer from the most common symptom of reflux–frequent heartburn?
I was diagnosed with reflux years ago, and I decided that neither of those options was acceptable to me. That left finding the best ways to manage the condition. I’ve tried a number of lifestyle and dietary changes, and below I list the ones that have actually helped me. Together they have enabled me to become heartburn free. Keep in mind that whatever approach you decide, it should be done under the supervision of a doctor, because reflux can lead to serious conditions, even esophageal cancer.
With that said, here they are.
Avoid overeating. Stuffing yourself is probably one of the worst offenders for causing reflux. Smaller meals, especially a smaller dinner can make a big difference.
Avoid soda at dinner. Carbonated beverages cause stomach distension, which aggravates reflux. I got into the habit of drinking ice water for dinner and that made a difference. I save the soda for lunch only. If you must have soda for dinner, try to drink one of the clear sodas, as the colas usually have caffeine (another reflux exacerbater).
Sleep on your left side. One look at a picture of the internal organs of the human body, you’ll see why this makes sense. The esophagus turns a bit and enters the stomach on the right side. When you lay on your left side, most of the stomach (and its acids) is below the esophagus. I found this to be helpful, although it took a while to get into the habit of turning on my left side before going to sleep.
Sleep on an incline. There are a few ways to do this. You can buy a wedge pillow that inclines the upper half of your body. These can help, but are not always very comfortable. Another way is to incline your whole bed by propping the head end of the frame up 4-6 inches on blocks of lumber. This is more comfortable since your whole body is inclined. I used this method for a while, but fond the bed to be a bit shaky, because two of the bed frame supports were no longer on the floor. I finally found a better solution: a bed frame insert such as those sold at www.bedsup.com. This has been the most stable way I have found to incline a bed.
Chew sugar-free gum. Chewing gum causes you to swallow saliva frequently, and saliva is a natural acid neutralizer.
Avoid lying down or doing something that involves stooping right after a meal. It’s better to do those things when there’s less in the stomach to be forced upward.
Use OTC products sparingly to prevent heartburn. If I’ve eaten a heavy dinner, or eaten something that’s likely to cause heartburn during the night, I’ll take a low dose acid reducer like Zantac 75 (or its generic equivalent) late in the evening. This kicks in after a while and lowers acid levels during the night. If what I’ve eaten is also likely to cause heartburn as soon as I lay down for sleep, I’ll also take sugar-free Tums, which lasts for about an hour. By the time the Tums wears off, the acid reducer has kicked in. Check with your doctor about using these products long-term.
There are many other lifestyle and diet changes that may help, if they apply to you, such as not smoking, not drinking heavily, exercising, and losing weight. The main thing is not to give up, but to keep researching, keep experimenting, and discover what works for you.