Don’t let GERD ruin the holidays

Next week, millions of families and friends across the nation will sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts. For about 20 percent of the population, the threat of heartburn will be an unwelcome dinner guest this holiday season. All the traditionally rich dishes and desserts may mean spending the evening battling discomfort or a sleepless night for millions of people. It’s common for adults to have occasional heartburn; however, as we age, it becomes more frequent due to physical changes. Aging muscles, weight gain, hernias and certain medications can cause older people to experience more heartburn and put them at increased risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. November 17-23 is GERD Awareness Week and it’s a good time to look at what can be done to manage this condition.

What is GERD?

Commonly known as heartburn or acid indigestion, gastroesophageal reflux happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. GERD is a more serious and long-lasting form of gastroesophageal reflux and can lead to problems such as respiratory problems, esophageal tissue damage and cancer of the esophagus. GERD is a chronic condition that can also undermine the quality of life. Symptoms of GERD can include:

  • A sour or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Difficulty or pain swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarseness
  • Inflamed gums
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • Sore throat
  • Tooth enamel erosion

What can be done?

There is no cure for GERD, but the condition can be maintained with treatment. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medications, surgery or a combination of methods. By learning more about their condition, people with GERD can make changes that prevent or lessen their symptoms. Knowing more about what and how to eat is an important part of managing their condition. Many people find that certain foods trigger acid reflux and/or lead to discomfort. It’s recommended to avoid or reduce the amount of these foods in your diet if you have GERD. Foods that lead to problems vary among individuals, but here is a list of common trigger foods and drinks:

  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee
  • Fatty foods
  • Onions
  • Peppermint
  • Spicy foods
  • Tea
  • Tomato products
  • Other lifestyle changes that could help reduce GERD symptoms include:
  • Weight loss, if needed. Being overweight can put increased pressure on the abdomen and cause reflux.
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing around the abdomen. Tight clothing can squeeze the stomach area and push acid up into the esophagus.
  • Avoiding large meals, especially late in the day.
  • Staying upright for 3 hours after meals. Maintaining an upright posture until a meal is digested may prevent heartburn.
  • Refrain from exertion that requires bending or lifting after a meal. It contracts the abdominal muscles and may force stomach contents up into the esophagus.
  • Gravity plays an important role in controlling reflux. Avoid reclining and slouching when sitting.
  • Sleeping on a slight angle. If heartburn occurs regularly during sleep, consider raising the head of the bed or inserting a triangular wedge to keep the esophagus above the stomach.

Medications and surgery

There are several different medications that can be used to help manage GERD. Sometimes, a combination of medications may be needed to control symptoms. Antacids are used to relieve heartburn and minor GERD symptoms. However, antacids can have side effects including diarrhea and constipation. Drugs called H2 blockers to decrease acid production. They provide short-term or on-demand relief for many people with GERD symptoms. They can also help heal esophagus damage. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) lower the amount of acid the stomach makes. PPIs are better at treating GERD symptoms than H2 blockers. They can heal the lining of the esophagus in most people with GERD. Doctors often prescribe PPIs for long-term GERD treatment. However, studies show that people who take PPIs for a long time or in high doses are more likely to have hip, wrist and spinal fractures. Prokinetics and certain antibiotics help the stomach empty faster. Side effects of prokinetics may include nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. Antibiotics may have fewer side effects but can cause diarrhea.

A doctor may recommend surgery if GERD symptoms don’t improve with lifestyle changes or medication and the procedure is deemed appropriate. The most common surgery for GERD is called fundoplication. In most cases, it leads to long-term reflux control. During a laparoscopic operation, the surgeon sews the top of the stomach around the esophagus to add pressure to the lower end of the esophagus and reduce reflux. There are also endoscopic surgical procedures such as using small stitches to tighten the ring of muscle surrounding the opening of the stomach (sphincter). Radiofrequency ablation uses targeted thermal energy to create heat lesions that help tighten the sphincter. The results for these endoscopic techniques may not be as good as those for fundoplication and doctors don’t use them often.

Whether it’s the holiday season or not, GERD can make life complicated. If you suffer from persistent heartburn or other symptoms of GERD, it is important to seek help. Consult your healthcare provider for assistance with a diagnosis and treatment options.

If you would like to know more about how Turenne PharMedCo Medical Supply Services or Turenne PharMedCo Pharmacy Services can help with managing GERD or addressing medication questions, please contact us at 1-866-710-7626.


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