GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, occurs when gastric juice from the stomach backs up into the bottom of the esophagus and causes irritation, inflammation or erosion of the cells lining the esophagus. About 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month, although not everyone who has heartburn has GERD, and not everyone who has GERD has heartburn.
The goals of treating GERD are to eliminate heartburn and other symptoms, heal damage to the esophagus, and prevent return of symptoms. Treatment proceeds in four stages: lifestyle changes, over-the-counter remedies, prescription drug therapy, and surgery.
Recommended lifestyle changes include:
• Quitting smoking
• If overweight, losing weight
• Stopping drinking alcoholic beverages
• Avoiding foods likely to cause heartburn
• Avoiding eating at least 3 hours before going to bed
• Elevating the head of the bed about 5 inches
Over-the-counter medications include antacids (reduce the acidity of liquid already in the stomach), H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors (help reduce the production of acid in the stomach). Surgery (laparoscopic fundoplication) is used when all other treatments fail and symptoms remain.
Nutritional concerns related to GERD involve lifestyle changes designed to reduce or eliminate heartburn. Foods to avoid include alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, fatty or fired foods, acidic foods (citrus fruits, orange or tomato juice), chocolate, highly spiced foods.