Most of us have experienced a slight burning in the chest after eating a big meal or eating too quickly. This tight, painful sensation usually goes away shortly after it begins and doesn’t happen regularly enough to be cause for concern. For people with GERD, though, this painful sensation called heartburn is their reality.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes consistent and painful acid reflux. This condition can cause severe side effects in the esophagus, as well as put people in persistent pain or discomfort that may interfere with their daily lives. If you suffer from regular heartburn, you should understand the common signs of GERD to know when to visit a doctor and find remedies to help you manage the condition.
Understanding and identifying GERD
GERD is a condition in which stomach acid flows up into the esophagus. This is called acid reflux and can severely irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing the pain often known as heartburn.
Acid reflux is caused by a circular band of muscle at the bottom of your esophagus (called the esophageal sphincter) weakening or relaxing too often. This muscle controls the flow of food and liquid into your stomach by relaxing and tightening. If the sphincter relaxes at the wrong time, stomach acid is able to flow the opposite way into your esophagus, causing inflammation and burning pain.
People who are pregnant or who are obese are at higher risk for acid reflux. Additionally, people who smoke or drink often or eat lots of fatty foods are more likely to experience consistent and worsening heartburn. Acid reflux often occurs after eating a meal and is normal for people to experience every once in a while. However, in GERD, it occurs much more frequently—often two or more times a week.
GERD is often accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Painful burning sensation in the chest (heartburn)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of food
- Disrupted sleep
- Sore throat or hoarseness
- Acidic taste in the mouth
GERD not only causes temporary pain but can also lead to severe health complications if it is not addressed. The acid can cause painful sores to develop in the esophagus, as well as scar tissue, which narrows the opening and can cause problems with swallowing.
If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms multiple times a week, either in a mild or severe form, you should visit a doctor. Your doctor will run a number of tests and inquire about your symptoms to reach a final diagnosis of GERD.
Natural treatments for GERD and heartburn
If you are diagnosed with GERD, you’ll need to find ways to manage it daily. Typical treatments for GERD may include prescription medications, antacids and maybe even surgery, but there are also numerous natural remedies to assist with the painful feelings of heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms.
- Change your diet: Fatty and fried foods are common triggers for acid reflux. Similarly, acidic foods like tomatoes or alcohol and caffeine are more likely to cause heartburn. Changing your diet to cut out some of these foods may help ease your symptoms. Also, you should be mindful of the way you eat. People with heartburn are often told to eat more slowly and to let food settle in between bites.
- Exercise and maintain a healthy weight: If you are overweight, there may be additional pressure placed on your abdomen. This can push on your stomach and cause acid reflux by force. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the effects of heartburn, as well as the other negative effects of obesity.
- Licorice root: Licorice has a long history of being used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, including fighting stress and fatigue, soothing sore throats and helping with viral infections. It can also be useful in soothing the pain of heartburn. The root is known to help heal ulcers and sores and reduce inflammation.
- Chew gum: Chewing sugar-free gum, especially after you eat a meal, can help minimize heartburn. Chewing gum helps stimulate the salivary glands, and saliva both acts as a buffer for acid and can help wash it back into the stomach when you swallow.
- Ginger: Regarded as one of the best herbal remedies for stomach problems, ginger may be able to ease problems with GERD. Ginger is a powerful digestive stimulant that helps settle the stomach. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory.
- Baking soda: Mixing baking soda with water and drinking it can help neutralize your stomach acid, minimizing the burning pain in the esophagus if acid does come back up. One teaspoon of baking soda with eight ounces of water should do the trick, but you should avoid using this method too regularly because it can cause nausea.
By paying attention to your lifestyle choices and adding one or two herbal supplements to your daily routine, your body will be better equipped to minimize or deal with the painful feelings that occur with GERD.