Digesting Details to GERD and Heartburn
While many people have likely experienced a little heartburn after Mexican food or eating something really spicy, how do you know if it might be acid reflux or GERD, otherwise known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease? And is there really a difference?
What is GERD?
GERD is known as chronic acid reflux meaning that it occurs twice a week or on a more regular basis. It is considered more of a persistent condition that affects the digestive system rather than just the “average” heartburn here and there (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases). GERD occurs when the contents of your stomach wash back up into your esophagus, throat and mouth. To give you a little science lesson, at the entrance of your stomach, there is a valve, which is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Typically, when you eat, the LES closes immediately; this helps keep food in your stomach. However, if the valve doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, the acid produced in your stomach can move up into your esophagus. When this happens, people experience burning in their chest or heartburn (The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, 2018).
What are the symptoms of GERD?
Many people start to think about GERD when they experience heartburn on a regular basis. It is the uncomfortable burning feeling that radiates in your chest and can even move up into your neck. You may notice it from feelings of bloating or burping. Others might notice symptoms of GERD by a sour or bitter taste in their mouth. And for some, GERD presents by regurgitation of food or fluid from the stomach into their mouth. It can often cause difficulty swallowing, a persistent cough, laryngitis and new or worsening asthma (British Medical Journals, GUT, 2014).
Interestingly, not all people experience digestion problems. Your dentist might be the first to identify if you have GERD by observing damage to your tooth enamel. This can indicate that stomach acid may be entering your mouth and gradually wearing away the surface of your teeth.
What causes GERD?
GERD affects about 20% of the population, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. So, what causes it? There are a variety of factors that can contribute to GERD and symptoms of acid reflux.
- Overeating, especially at one sitting
- Lying down right after a big meal
- Eating close to bedtime
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking or regularly inhaling secondhand smoke
Some medications can also contribute to or exacerbate the symptoms of GERD:
Certain foods and beverages can also trigger GERD. These include but are not limited to:
- High-fat foods
- Citrus foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Coffee and tea
- Alcoholic beverages
Then for some, GERD can be caused by a hiatal hernia. This is when the opening of your diaphragm allows the upper part of your stomach to move up into your chest. Normally, the diaphragm helps keep acid in your stomach, but a hiatal hernia can cause it to move into your esophagus and induce heartburn symptoms (Integrated Pharmacy Research & Practice, 2018).
If symptoms become worse, it is important to see your physician, but for many, lifestyle changes can help control and even improve symptoms of GERD. Several effective changes include eating a low-fat diet, avoiding overeating, limiting alcohol, and even sleeping with your head elevated. One recommended dietary change is to increase your fiber intake and oats are a great way to do that. They can be eaten as oatmeal or Overnight Oats, made into breads and protein cookies and used as a base for granola.
Checkout MUSH – a cold, overnight oats product you can purchase already made; no prep required. And if you are looking for a way to add fiber to your snacks, try Alyssa’s Healthy Oatmeal Bites/Vegan Bites. Packed with 10 grams of fiber per serving, these may help alleviate GERD symptoms.
Be on the lookout for more foods, tips and tricks to help you identify, combat and manage GERD!
* Foodguides.com articles have been reviewed by subject experts for accuracy, if you are experiencing heartburn and think you may be dealing with GERD, please see a GI doctor.