If you are prone to heartburn, even a small amount of weight loss could reduce your symptoms. If you only suffer from occasional bouts of heartburn, its symptoms might not be a concern for you. However, chronic heartburn could be a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Commonly, the condition is known as acid reflux. According to The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, obesity is the most common cause of heartburn, and it plays a role in GERD. With weight loss and healthy eating, you may be able to improve your heartburn symptoms.
The Link Between Obesity and Heartburn
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), roughly one in three adults in the U.S. is overweight. Unfortunately, those who are obese are at increased risk for experiencing gastrointestinal problems like GERD. Today, more than 15 million people in the U.S. experience heartburn daily. Although acid reflux is a common health condition, it can cause damage to the esophagus and, of course, cause discomfort for sufferers. In fact, medical treatment is required for someone with GERD in order to reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
Medical providers believe that excessive weight increases abdominal pressure, which alone can cause acid reflux. However, the types of food a person eats such as fatty foods can also trigger the motor reflexes in the intestines, causing those unpleasant symptoms of acid reflux to occur. Even though a person who is obese is three times more likely to experience heartburn, a woman, for instance, can reduce her risk of heartburn by about 40%.
What Is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs with frequent stomach acid flowing back through the esophagus, which is a tube that connects the stomach and mouth. The acid causes irritation to the lining of the esophagus and, over time, can actually damage it. A person who experiences heartburn, acid reflux, twice a week or more may be diagnosed with heartburn. Other symptoms of GERD may include:
- Chest pain
- Regurgitation of food
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chronic coughing
- Burning sensation in the throat
- Sleep disruptions
Anyone who experiences these symptoms twice a week on a frequent basis should consult with a doctor.
Although obesity is a leading cause of GERD, the condition can be caused by or exacerbated by other factors such as:
- Connective tissue disorders
- Hiatal hernia
- Delayed digestion
- Eating late in the evening
- Diet rich in fried and fatty foods
- Drinking certain beverages such as coffee or alcohol
In some cases, a person may be taking medications that could trigger heartburn, which is why it’s important to let doctors know if you’re experiencing it.
How Is GERD Managed?
Treating GERD is important in order to improve symptoms–and experience relief–but also to avoid complications that could arise with this condition. The inflammation associated with acid reflux can cause the esophagus to narrow. Acid reflux damages the lining of the esophagus, causing scar tissue to form. The scar tissue leads to the narrowing of the tube, which can cause problems with swallowing food.
GERD can also cause esophageal ulcers to form. As the acid reflux wears away the esophagus lining, it can cause open sores to form. These ulcers can bleed and be extremely painful. A person with an esophageal ulcer will find it difficult to swallow without experiencing pain. Finally, it’s possible that the acid can cause changes in esophageal cells, causing them to become precancerous.
Treatment of GERD
Doctors will inform patients who are overweight or obese that lifestyle changes could reduce their GERD symptoms. Together with other measures such as the use of antacids, GERD can be effectively managed in many cases. If you are diagnosed with GERD, the following medical interventions may be recommended:
If your GERD is mild to moderate, your physician may advise you to try over-the-counter medications to manage your acid reflux. Many heartburn sufferers rely on products like Tums or Mylanta to reduce their symptoms. Even so, it’s important not to overuse antacids. If you find yourself needing them frequently, discuss other medication options with your healthcare provider. You might also try natural antacid supplements like GerdLi. This supplement is non-GMO, vegan, relies on natural ingredients, and stands out as one of the best supplements for GERD to relieve its symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend prescription medications to treat your GERD. H-2 receptor blockers are medications that can help reduce acid production. Keep in mind that these drugs may not work as quickly as antacids. However, prescription types of these medications can block acid reflux for a longer period of time than over-the-counter options. Also, if your esophagus has already suffered damage from acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe a medication that both reduces acid production and triggers esophageal healing.
Sometimes people’s acid reflux doesn’t always respond well to medications or some patients simply don’t want to rely on medications for a long period of time or indefinitely. Surgery may be an option for some GERD sufferers. There are various procedures that surgeons can perform to prevent acid reflux.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heartburn and GERD
Making lifestyle changes can lead to reduced heartburn, the key symptom of GERD. The main lifestyle change that a person with frequent heartburn should consider is weight loss. Losing weight combined with improved nutrition (and cutting out any foods that trigger heartburn) can lead to a substantial reduction in heartburn symptoms.
In fact, with significant weight loss, a person may be able to eat foods (in moderation) that caused heartburn in the past (i.e. pizza) without a renewal of symptoms. Losing weight can alleviate the pressure on the abdomen and prevent acid reflux from occurring. Other lifestyle changes you can make to manage GERD include:
- Sitting up (not laying down) after a meal
- Eating food slowly
- Stop smoking
- Avoid tight clothes around the abdomen
When you cut out or cut back on fatty foods or other foods that trigger your heartburn (sometimes acidic foods like tomato sauce can trigger heartburn), you can also reduce your symptoms.
Many people who experience heartburn try first to manage it with lifestyle changes like dietary changes and weight loss. If your heartburn continues, however, or you find yourself relying increasingly on antacids, be sure to consult your physician.