Health Team

Lifestyle choices, medication help control acid reflux

Posted April 8, 2016

Acid reflux disease and the heartburn that accompanies it is a problem for many people - and those who don't suffer from it have no idea how uncomfortable it can be.

There's a huge population out there that has to be cautious about everything they eat.

Jasmine Betts understands. "Normal people don't feel like the food [they eat] is just sitting up there in their throats," she said.

"It feels like you're having a heart attack," said Nick Lilja, another victim of acid reflux. "You get chest pains, and you become short of breath and uncomfortable."

For people with severe heartburn like Betts and Lilja, the discomfort is debilitating. Dr. Sean Fink, a gastroenterologist, hears these complaints of severe heartburn all the time.

Usually, acid reflux is to blame.

"When stomach contents actually reflux back up into the esophagus, it causes a variety of different symptoms," he said. Fink says most people suffering from acid reflux disease feel classic symptoms like heartburn or an acidic taste in the mouth.

Others have no idea they have it, and they only find out due to other health issues.

"We get referrals from pulmonary (lung) doctors for worsening asthma symptoms and referrals from dentists when patients have enamel erosion, which is from the reflux," Fink said.

Acid reflux can be treated with medication, but researchers have recently questioned the safety of these drugs. The studies claim they can cause kidney disease or even dementia.

"The study was really poorly done," said Fink, who encourages people not to stop taking the medications that ease acid reflux unless their doctors advise it. "Otherwise, damage like scarring, shrinking and inflammation of the esophagus could get worse."

According to Fink, the damage caused to your esophagus from stopping medication could even increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

Apart from continuing to take their medications, Dr. Fink has introduced some other ways that those affected can reduce the impact heartburn has on their lives. Several lifestyle choices can further prevent the discomfort provided by this serious condition.

"Eat smaller, more frequent meals, and don't eat three hours before bedtime," he said. "Reduce your caffeine intake and eliminate any nicotine or tobacco." Even chocolate and mints have been found to make acid reflux worse.

Lilja and Betts both agree that Dr. Fink's final tip works.

"Everybody always says diet and exercise can solve a lot of your problems, but it really can help heartburn," says Fink.

If you haven't been diagnosed with acid reflux, pay attention to any unusual symptoms. "Don't take your symptoms lightly," Fink said. "Some cases that may be perceived as heartburn or acid reflux could actually be a bigger issue, so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns."


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