Lifestyle Changes to Manage Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

Lifestyle changes may help manage the symptoms of GERD. Not all changes will work for everyone with GERD. Keep a journal of foods, drinks, or other activities that cause discomfort. It can help determine which lifestyle changes may be most helpful.

General Guidelines for Managing GERD

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes affects the nerve and blood supply. This could make it difficult for the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to work properly. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit. Quitting may help decrease GERD and GERD symptoms.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess abdominal weight can increase the pressure on the stomach which makes it difficult for the LES to work properly. Obesity also increases the risk of a hiatal hernia which can cause GERD. If you are overweight, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about how to lose weight safely. If you are in a healthy range, maintain your weight to help control GERD symptoms.

Avoid Specific Eating and Drinking Habits

Overeating can overwhelm the stomach and make it difficult for LES to close properly. To avoid overfilling the stomach:

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eat at a slower pace to allow your stomach time to manage the food.

Be aware of foods that exacerbate GERD symptoms. The exact foods can vary from person to person but the most common food triggers are:

  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomato-based products
  • Chocolate
  • Mint

Drinks that may trigger symptoms include:

  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Caffeinated drinks
Position and Timing

The stomach needs time to breakdown food and move it in the right direction. To prevent irritating GERD symptoms:

  • Wait at least 2-3 hours after eating a meal before lying down to give your stomach time to empty. Allow enough time between your last food of the night and bedtime.
  • Avoid bending over or straining, especially soon after meals.
  • Avoid large meals for a couple of hours before exercise. Experiment for which snacks are best before working out or to support endurance activities.

Lying down makes it easier for content to flow from your stomach into the esophagus. Elevating your head just a bit uses gravitiy to help keep stomach contents in place. Place 4-6 inch blocks under the legs at the head of the bed to keep your upper body slightly elevated.

Don’t Wear Tight Clothes or Belts

Wearing clothing or belts that are too tight can increase the reflux of stomach acid by increasing abdominal pressure. This may be more of a problem for those who have excess weight around the midsection.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 02/27/2015 -
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