Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated holidays we celebrate. Kids are out of school, families get to together, football games are played both on the television and in the backyard, and we can’t forget the feast! A whole day dedicated to one deliciously large meal—who can resist? As you get out your recipe books and plan your trips to the grocery store, you may be reminiscing about the heartburn and acid reflux that overcame you last year. You filled your plate with grandma’s best dishes, but suddenly that burning sensation in your chest replaced your burning desire for a second helping. November 23-29 is GERD Awareness Week to encourage you to do your part to avoid the many painful symptoms associated with GERD.

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. The stomach acid irritates the esophagus which results in the burning sensation known as heartburn. GERD is very common; 60% of adults experience chronic acid reflux and other symptoms associated with GERD. Those symptoms include chest pains, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food, or the feeling that you have a lump in your throat. While GERD can be treated with over the counter medications or a change in lifestyle, many people ignore this fact believing that GERD is untreatable.

Complications Caused By GERD

If left untreated, gastroesophageal reflux disease can turn into several more serious diseases. Issues such as Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal stricture, esophageal ulcer, and esophageal cancer can form. Barrett’s esophagus happens when changes occur in the tissue of the lower esophagus. This can result in esophageal cancer. Esophageal stricture is caused by scar tissue buildup from stomach acid. The scar tissue makes the esophagus more narrow and prevents you from being able to swallow food easily. Esophageal ulcers form when the stomach acid wears a hole in the esophageal tissue leaving an open sore. The ulcer may even bleed or cause you pain every time you swallow.

Lifestyle Changes To Decrease GERD Symptoms

There are several ways you can avoid, or at least lessen, the symptoms associated with GERD. Consider making these changes:

  • Stop smoking - Smoking is known to weaken the esophageal sphincter and prevent it from working properly.
  • Watch your weight - Extra pounds add pressure to your abdomen, push up your stomach and increase the potential for acid reflux.
  • Eat food slowly - Chew your food completely and set your fork down in between bites. Eating quickly often promotes acid reflux and heartburn.
  • Don’t lie down after you eat - We recommend waiting at least 3 hours before you lie down or go to sleep after you eat a meal.
  • Avoid acid reflux triggers - Foods that are high in fat content, foods that are fried, and foods that are high in acidity should be avoided. Stay away from onion, garlic, and chocolate as well as alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid tight clothes - Wearing clothes that fit snugly around your waist puts pressure on your abdomen and your lower esophageal sphincter.

Don’t let your Thanksgiving holiday be ruined by heartburn and acid reflux. Instead, eat carefully and slowly, go for a walk after lunch rather than snoozing on the couch, and do your best not to overeat. But if you experience acid reflux or other symptoms of GERD on a regular basis, it’s time to make an appointment with Carolina Digestive Health Associates. We have eight office locations all staffed with an incredible team of doctors who want to give you the treatment you deserve so you don’t have to live in pain. Don’t hesitate. Schedule an appointment today so GERD doesn’t wreck another holiday.