Combatting gastric reflux may require lifestyle changesBy Veita Bland, M.D. / September 16, 2016
One of the most common complaints people present to a doctor’s office with is acid indigestion or gastric reflux. Sometimes it’s a patient’s main complaint and other times a patient will express the concern to me as I have my hand on the examination room door knob about to exit the room.
Often, people know what acid indigestion is and they want reassurance from their physician that it is not heart disease.
The facts show that reflux is a normal physiological event experienced by most people. The problem comes about when the normal defense mechanisms of the body do not work well and one becomes symptomatic. Studies show that 25 to 40 percent of healthy adult Americans experience gastric reflux once a month. Unfortunately, seven to 10 percent of healthy adult Americans experience gastric reflux on a daily basis.
As the body goes through the digestive process, the stomach produces acid to aid in breaking down the food that is eaten. The stomach is lined with cells that can tolerate the acid. The esophagus is that portion of the gastrointestinal tract that leads to the stomach. It is not comprised of the cell types used in digestion that line the stomach.
During the digestive process, some stomach acid may get into the esophagus. In most cases, the body has defense mechanisms that can rid that material from the esophagus. The problem and the symptoms of acid indigestion and gastric reflux manifest when this mechanism fails. These medical conditions need to be cared for because prolonged exposure to gastric acids can result in chronic gastric reflux, stricture and possibly cancerous changes in the tissue lining the lower esophagus.
Acid indigestion and gastric reflux symptoms may include the typical heart burn we all know. Other symptoms may include vomiting and difficulty swallowing. More serious symptoms would include coughing, wheezing, hoarseness, sore throat, ear infections, chest pain not associated with the heart and loss of tooth enamel.
The first line of treatment would be to make lifestyle changes. If overweight, losing weight has been a big help to most. Patients with this condition should avoid eating peppermint, chocolate, citrus juice and tomato-based products. It may help to eat small, frequent meals rather than large ones. It is recommended that patients avoid most foods three hours prior to bedtime. It is also important that patients wait three hours after eating a meal before they lie down and avoid wearing tight fitting clothes. In extreme cases, elevating the head of the bed 8 inches and avoiding bending and stooping positions will help.
While there are several over-the-counter medications and prescription meds to help patients manage acid indigestion and gastric reflux. These medications have recently been found to have side effects that must be weighed against their benefits. In the most severe cases, surgical intervention is needed.
Most people can receive adequate relief by implementing deliberate and disciplined lifestyle changes. Please give them a chance before taking a pill.
Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on North Carolina A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays.