Parkridge Health System - December 13, 2022

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are gearing up to eat scrumptious meals. Food is involved in holiday celebrations across cultures and religions as a way to connect with loved ones and bring us together. Sometimes, these decedent meals can be quite rich, leaving us feeling uneasy. How do you know if the heartburn you’re experiencing is more than a reaction to those tasty treats?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects up to forty percent of the U.S. population in their lifetime. GERD is more than just your typical heartburn; it causes stomach contents (food or liquid) to leak backwards into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean that one has GERD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems. Anyone — including infants, children and pregnant women — can have GERD.

Symptoms of GERD

It can be tough to distinguish the difference between occasional heartburn and GERD. The common symptoms of GERD include chronic heartburn (burning pain in the chest) and regurgitation. Less common symptoms include chronic cough, sore throat, and a hoarse voice.

Who is at risk of GERD?

Those at risk of developing GERD are typically males and people with a family history of gastrointestinal symptoms. Obesity can increase the risk of GERD up to six times. Smoking, pregnancy, scleroderma, hiatal hernia and excessive alcohol consumption are also risk factors.

How is GERD diagnosed?

GERD is often diagnosed based upon symptoms and response to anti-reflux medication. However, symptoms alone are not enough to diagnose GERD, so testing is required for conclusive diagnosis. If you have a diagnosis of GERD based on symptoms, take proton pump inhibitors and still have reflux symptoms, you can speak to a gastroenterologist about a reflux test. Select TriStar Health facilities offer innovative testing that provides accurate information, allowing us to provide a tailored therapy to meet your needs.

So, I have GERD. What can I do about it?

It might be a relief to know that GERD can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, consuming nutritious, smaller meals and refraining from eating right before bed.

During the holidays, we are often exposed to not only larger servings of food but rich, fatty foods. It can be a slippery slope to indigestion, take note of the following tips on how to handle holiday heartburn:

  • Know the foods that irritate your stomach and trigger heartburn and avoid them. Chocolate, citrus juices, onions, tomatoes, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol tend to cause heartburn.
  • Eat smaller meals more often and savor small bites.
  • Take a walk after meals — this helps food digest which prevents heartburn.
  • Wear comfortable clothes — tight clothing, including belts, can push stomach acid up into your esophagus.

If you’re concerned you may have GERDS, speak to your primary care or reach out to a gastroenterologist. Looking for a doctor? You can find physicians close to home on the Parkridge Health website.