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GERD: What it is and what you can do about it

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a condition in which food or liquid contents of the stomach back up into the food pipe or esophagus. This can inflame or damage the lining of the esophagus. It is a common ailment among adults, and the first symptom is often heartburn.


At the lower end of the esophagus is a muscle that opens and closes to let food through. This muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. It is also sometimes called the cardiac sphincter. If this muscle is weakened in some way or if the stomach is full or under increased pressure, the muscle relaxes when it isn’t supposed to, and the stomach contents back up (reflux) into the esophagus.


There are symptoms of GERD other than heartburn. You may experience chest pain, especially at night when you are lying down; have difficulty swallowing; experience regurgitation of food or sour liquid; or have coughing, wheezing, hoarseness or a sore throat. It is possible to have a feeling like you have something stuck in your throat. You need to see your doctor if you are having these symptoms often. Your physician can make the proper diagnosis and prescribe appropriate medications.


There are things that can be done to help relieve symptoms. There are foods that actually act to relax the lower esophageal sphincter and allow stomach contents to seep back up. For this reason, the following foods should be avoided: fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tea, colas and alcohol. Smoking also relaxes the LES and should be avoided. Since a full stomach can put pressure on the LES, it can help to eat smaller meals more often. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the risk of pressure on the abdominal area caused by extra weight.


When someone is lying down, it is easier for reflux to occur. To prevent reflux, be sure to eat your last meal at least three hours before going to bed and avoid bedtime snacks. It also helps to raise the head of your bed by six inches to allow gravity to help keep stomach contents where they belong.


GERD is a condition that can be managed, but it is also important to know that there can be complications. Be sure to discuss symptoms with your doctor.




Last Updated 05/05/2009


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