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Learn about the latest treatments for chronic heartburn and acid reflux.

Tasting your food once is great. Tasting it twice… not so much.

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), this may be your reality at every meal. But eating doesn’t have to become a constant game of trying to balance eating what you want with avoiding reflux symptoms. With a few changes to your lifestyle and access to the latest medical treatment methods, you can finally put your GERD symptoms to rest.

“It’s easy to brush off reflux symptoms, especially if they’re mild — but excessive GERD symptoms are something that should be taken seriously,” explains Dr. Robert Purcell, a gastroenterologist at Geisinger Gastroenterology/Endoscopy Montoursville.

If your GERD symptoms are interfering with your daily life or drastically restricting what you can eat, talk with your doctor about treatment options.

What causes GERD, and why is it a problem?

Heartburn and indigestion are both common symptoms, and most people experience occasional heartburn, often relating to their diet. However, if you have heartburn symptoms twice a week or more, you may have a more serious degree of GERD.

GERD is acid reflux caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which functions like a trapdoor — when the stomach is empty, it opens and lets food in. Once the stomach is full, the LES closes to stop acid and bile from leaving the stomach.

“In people with GERD, their LES is weak and either does not close completely or may open at inappropriate times,” says Dr. Purcell. “As a result, acid and bile can flow back up into the esophagus, especially while lying down.”

In the short term, GERD causes the obvious discomfort of frequent heartburn, as well as less typical symptoms of difficulty swallowing, wheezing and chest pain. Over the long term, it can do more damage.

“GERD can cause esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, strictures and even esophageal cancer — all stemming from acid damage to the esophagus,” says Dr. Purcell. “The best way to avoid these conditions is to take steps to reduce and eliminate GERD.”

How to avoid GERD symptoms

You can reduce or eliminate the discomfort of GERD symptoms by taking a few simple steps. These include: 

  • Avoiding fast food
  • Not eating 3 to 4 hours before bed 
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • Steering clear of tobacco
  • Staying away from spicy foods
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • Exercising regularly with an empty stomach
  • Avoiding stress

“If you notice that your GERD symptoms are interfering with your daily life or drastically restricting what you can eat, consider talking with your doctor about treatment options,” says Dr. Purcell.

If you need further treatment, your doctor can help you find a treatment that works best for you and will help you find relief from GERD.

Next steps: 

Meet Robert Purcell, MD
Learn more about gastroenterology care at Geisinger

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