Stomach acids are necessary for the digestion of food. However, if too much acid develops in the stomach, it can cause acid reflux (heartburn) or a disease called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You may experience uncomfortable or even painful symptoms, including gas and bloating, a burning feeling in your stomach or the back of your throat, dry cough, wheezing, and chest pain. Most people suffer from these symptoms from time to time, usually after eating certain foods, eating too quickly without chewing food well, or lying down too soon after eating. Obesity, pregnancy, and other medical conditions can also lead to increased stomach acid.
EditIdentifying Your Symptoms
- Check for symptoms of esophagitis. Acid reflux may be a symptom of a condition called esophagitis, in which the esophagus becomes inflamed, causing esophageal narrowing, damaging the tissue, and increasing the chances of choking on your food. If left untreated, esophagitis can lead to severe tissue damage and esophageal cancer. Common symptoms are heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain that occurs while eating. A cold, flu, or other viral infection should be treated immediately if you have acid reflux, as it can lead to increased inflammation in the food pipe. See your doctor if symptoms:
- Last longer than a few days or don’t improve with over-the-counter antacids
- Are severe enough to make eating difficult
- Are accompanied by flu signs and symptoms, such as headache, fever, and muscle aches
- Are accompanied by shortness of breath or chest pain that occurs shortly after eating
- Get emergency care if you experience pain in your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, suspect you have food lodged in your esophagus, have a history of heart disease, or have impaired immune function.
- Check for symptoms for gastritis. Heartburn may also be a symptom of gastritis. Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining often caused by helicobacter pylori bacteria, which may also cause stomach ulcers. An autoimmune disorder, a backup of bile into the stomach, or long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also cause gastritis. Common symptoms of gastritis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting, possibly of material that looks like ground coffee (blood)
- Dark stools
- Check for signs of gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the movement of the muscles in your stomach does not function normally, preventing your stomach from emptying properly. This can cause acid reflux and vomiting by backing up stomach acids in the esophagus. People are more likely to develop this condition if they have diabetes or recently had a surgery. Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- A feeling of fullness after eating just a few bites
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in blood sugar levels
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss and malnutrition
- Get emergency medical care. Heartburn, angina, and heart attack may feel very much alike. Both heartburn and a developing heart attack can cause symptoms that subside after a while. Typical heart attack signs and symptoms for which you should go to the emergency room immediately are:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
EditMaking Lifestyle Changes to Decrease Stomach Acid
- Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can increase the production of stress hormones, which can trigger acid reflux, put you at higher risk for chronic diseases, and lower life expectancy. If you suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia, talk to your doctor for possible treatments.
- Strategies for getting enough sleep include a quiet, dark, cool environment and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and sugary foods for 4-6 hours before bed. You should also avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed and work or exercise 3-4 hours before bed.
- For more info on getting enough sleep, check: How to Sleep Better
- Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your stomach or lying flat on your back right after a meal can promote stomach acids, causing indigestion and heartburn. Try sleeping on your left side with a firm pillow between your knees to prevent stress on your spine, hips, and lower back. Some studies show that sleeping on the left side limits the flow of stomach acid into the esophagus by supporting the body’s natural curves.
- Pull your knees up slightly toward your chest. The pillow for your head should keep your spine straight. A rolled towel or small pillow under your waist may also help support your spine.
- If you have a respiratory condition or cold, try to prop your head up on a pillow to improve airflow. The pillow for your head should support the natural curve of your neck and be comfortable. A pillow that’s too high can put your neck into a position that causes muscle strain on your back, neck, and shoulders. This can increase stress, cause headaches and trigger acid reflux. Choose a pillow that will keep the neck aligned with the chest and lower back.
- Wear loose clothing. The type of clothing you wear can affect your acid reflux, especially if you’re overweight. Tight clothing can increase pressure in your abdominal area, which can force the contents of your stomach back up into your esophagus. Be sure to wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing.
- Avoid stretching or bending after meals. In general, you should avoid exercising for at least 2–4 hours after eating. If you frequently have acid reflux or heartburn, even slight bending, stretching or climbing stairs can promote stomach acids. Gently paced walking, in contrast, helps reduce stomach acids and aids digestion.
- Chew food thoroughly. Chewing your food thoroughly makes it easier to swallow and digest, thus reducing or preventing symptoms of heartburn. It also increases nutrient absorption by releasing food enzymes and may help promote weight loss by reducing appetite.
- If you have dental issues that make it difficult to chew, ask your dentist about how to chew properly while taking care of your oral health.
- Quit smoking. Studies suggest that smoking increases acid secretion, impairs muscle reflexes in the throat, and damages protective mucus membranes. Smoking reduces salivation, and saliva helps neutralize acid.
- It is unknown whether the smoke, nicotine, or both trigger GERD. Some people who use nicotine patches to quit smoking, for example, have heartburn, but it is not clear whether the nicotine or stress produces the acid backup.
- In addition, smoking can lead to emphysema, a condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged and enlarged, causing breathlessness.
EditCreating a Diet Plan
- Drink plenty of water. Water has a neutral pH, which can help neutralize stomach acids and help your body absorb nutrients easily. Aim to drink at least eight ounces of water every two hours. Two liters of water is the daily recommendation for the average adult. Alkaline water with a pH of 8.8 may be more beneficial for people with severe symptoms of heartburn and GERD.
- If you drink caffeinated beverages, drink one liter of water for every cup (one fluid oz.) of caffeine.
- Not getting enough water can also lead to dehydration. Dehydration can cause headaches, irritability, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath. Non-caffeinated, glucose-free sports drinks with electrolytes can help alleviate dehydration as well.
- Keep a food journal. There is no one specific diet that will prevent all symptoms of heartburn and GERD. The only way for your doctor to design a meal plan appropriate for you is to discover which foods you tolerate well and which foods aggravate your reflux. Try to keep a detailed food record for one or two weeks. Your food record may have three categories:
- The type and quantity of food or beverages, such as one cup orange juice. Note any spices you may have used in your meals as well.
- Time of day
- Symptoms and the severity of the condition, such as mild acid reflux.
- Eat smaller, healthier meals. Eating 5-6 small meals each day aids digestion, promotes weight loss and increases energy levels without causing acid reflux. Ask your doctor about your recommended daily calorie intake to manage your weight while eating healthier meals. Other ways you can practice portion control to eat smaller meals are:
- Split large entrées with a friend instead of eating it all, or box half the meal to take with you.
- Control snack portion by placing an exact amount into a bowl instead of eating from the box.
- Serve food on individual plates, and keep serving dishes in the kitchen to reduce the temptation of additional servings.
- People tend to consume more when they have easy access to food. Move the healthier food to the front of the fridge and cabinets, and keep less healthy options out of sight.
- Avoid foods that increase stomach acids. Refined carbohydrates, fried and processed foods, sugary beverages, red meat, hydrogenated oils, and margarine can increase inflammation in the esophagus. High-fat meals and fried foods also tend to decrease lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure and delay stomach emptying, thereby increasing the risk of reflux.
- Chili peppers and black pepper contain compounds such as capsaicin and piperine, which can increase stomach acid production and should be avoided. However, sweet bell peppers are safe as they do not contain these compounds.
- Chocolate should also be avoided as it contains methylxanthine, a compound that relaxes the LES, allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.
- Your doctor can help you create a personalized meal plan if you are allergic to certain foods or if you experience bloating and indigestion due to acid reflux.
- Eat nutritious foods. Many healthy options do not encourage stomach acid production, reduce inflammation in the esophagus and stomach, and provide you with necessary nutrients to support various bodily functions. These foods also have the added benefit of helping you maintain a healthy weight and a high fiber content that promotes the digestive system. However, too much fiber can slow down stomach emptying in people who have gastroparesis. Ask your doctor or a dietician to help you come up with a meal plan that is right for you. In general, you should try to eat more:
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale which are high in antioxidants and plant fiber.
- Artichokes to aid digestion.
- Sweet bell peppers, which are high in vitamin C.
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, oatmeal, and flax seed.
- Dried beans and lentils. Canned varieties should be avoided as they have a high sodium content and may have additives such as animal saturated fat and sugar, which can contribute to a variety of diseases.
- Lean poultry such as turkey, quail and chicken.
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.
- Nuts such as almonds or walnuts.
- Eat more select fruits. While fruits and tomatoes are beneficial to your health, the citric acid in these foods may increase the risk for heartburn and GERD. Eating non-citrus fruits may help reduce stomach acids. Try apples, bananas, cucumbers, and watermelon.
- Use healthy cooking oil. Some vegetable oils such as flaxseed, canola, olive, and soybean are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids that help prevent heartburn by neutralizing stomach acids and coating the esophagus to reduce inflammation.
- Rice bran oil is often used to help relieve symptoms of acid reflux.
- You can also use these oils as salad dressings.
- Use probiotics. Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria found in our stomach that help promote digestive health, boost the immune system, and help fight inflammation. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, certain types of milk, soy products, and as dietary supplements.
- Eat yogurt or take a probiotic supplement on an empty stomach with 4-6 oz. of water. You can also twist or cut the capsule and empty the powdered bacteria into a glass, add the water and a teaspoon of soda bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid.
- You should consult your doctor before taking probiotics if you have a weakened immune system or are currently taking immunosuppressant drugs.
- Avoid using garlic and onions. While garlic and onions do not cause acid reflux, studies have found that they may aggravate symptoms for people who regularly experience acid reflux and heartburn. They may increase the acidity of meals, thus triggering reflux.
- Garlic and onions have been found beneficial for many heart and respiratory conditions, therefore may be used in moderation and smaller doses for people with other conditions to avoid triggering acid reflux.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. While moderate consumption of alcohol helps improve heart and digestive health, it may cause inflammation and damage to the esophagus for people with symptoms of heartburn, esophagitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Most experts have found that drinking alcohol, especially large quantities, increases the risk of GERD. Any form of alcohol such as beer, wine, or spirit may cause acid reflux and should be avoided. Try to limit your intake to one glass per week.
EditUsing Herbal and Home Remedies
- Drink chamomile tea. Though used as a remedy for indigestion for thousands of years, research into the effects of chamomile on humans is sparse. Animal studies have found that German chamomile reduces inflammation. An analysis of several studies found that combinations of the herb iberis, peppermint, and chamomile may help relieve indigestion symptoms.
- To make chamomile tea, steep 2-4 grams of dried chamomile flowers in 1 cup of hot water. Drinking highly concentrated chamomile can induce nausea and vomiting, so make sure not to infuse the tea longer than five minutes.
- Chamomile is also available as a dietary supplement at most drug stores. If you are allergic to asters, daisies, chrysanthemums, or ragweed, you may also be allergic to chamomile.
- Ask your doctor before using chamomile if you are taking medication for diabetes, blood pressure or sedatives.
- Use slippery elm. Slippery elm bark contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water, which coats the esophagus, stomach, and intestinal lining to reduce irritation and acid reflux. The antioxidants in slippery elm also help protect against stomach ulcers and inflammation. Slippery elm bark is available as capsules, lozenges, teas, and powdered extracts at most pharmacies and nutrition stores. You should take slippery elm two hours before or after other herbs or medications you may be taking as it can slow down the absorption of other medications.
- To make slippery elm tea, steep 1–2 g (approx. 1 tablespoon) of powdered bark extract in 1 cup of boiling water for 3–5 minutes. Drink up to 3 times per day or as recommended by your doctor.
- The recommended dose for slippery elm capsules is 400-500 mg at least 3-4 times daily, for 4–8 weeks or until your condition improves. Take with a full glass of water.
- Do not give slippery elm to a child without consulting your doctor first.
- Use ginger. Research suggests that taking 1–2 grams of raw ginger or ginger root powder at least one hour before meals can help aid gastric emptying, thus reducing symptoms of heartburn and GERD. Ginger can also help reduce symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and inflammation caused by acid backing up in the esophagus. Ginger root is widely available at most grocery stores.
- Ginger tea can also be made by steeping 1–2 grams of peeled ginger in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain and drink up to 2 times daily, at least 1 hour before meals.
- Ask your doctor before taking ginger if you have diabetes, heart conditions, bleeding disorders, or if you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. Tell your doctor about any other medications, herbs, or supplements you may be using to avoid side effects.
- Use baking soda. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is often used as a natural antacid to help neutralize stomach acids and help digestion. Baking soda is available as both oral tablets and powder, which can be used up to four times daily at least 1–2 hours after having meals or other medications. Avoid taking sodium bicarbonate on an overly full stomach.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water until it dissolves completely and drink it to neutralize stomach acid. Measure powdered doses carefully using a measuring spoon. Add honey or lemon for taste if you want.
- Check with your doctor before using baking soda If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, have other heart or digestive conditions, or are currently using other medications, herbs, and supplements.
- Take sodium bicarbonate exactly as directed. Do not use sodium bicarbonate for longer than two weeks unless your doctor tells you to. Baking soda should not be given to children under twelve years of age.
- Take the miss doses as soon as you remember unless it is almost time for the next dose. Then skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule.
- Chew gum. Chewing a piece of sugar-free gum for half an hour after a meal can reduce heartburn, as it stimulates the production of saliva. Saliva is alkaline, so swallowing saliva neutralizes stomach acid.
- Sugar-free gum additionally contains xylitol, which inhibits bacteria that cause tooth decay.
- Sugary gum can thicken saliva causing a dry mouth and may not be as beneficial as sugar-free gum.
- Avoid mint-flavored gum as it can stimulate acid reflux.
- Avoid using peppermint or spearmint. Peppermint can relax the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus, allowing stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach. By relaxing the sphincter, peppermint may actually make the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion worse. While spearmint does not cause reflux, it may promote mucus and postnasal drip, especially if you have a cold, that can cause irritation in the esophagus.
EditPracticing Relaxation Techniques
- Avoid stress triggers. Stress can relate to increased acid reflux since it can cause people to eat more, drink alcohol, smoke, or sleep less. Food takes longer to digest in stressful conditions, delaying gastric emptying and making it likely for food to be regurgitated. Learning to avoid stressful environments and managing stressful situations with ease can help improve your overall well-being. Simple ways to reduce stress are:
- Slow, deep breathing in a quiet environment
- Focusing on positive outcomes
- Restructuring priorities and eliminating unnecessary tasks
- Reducing use of electronic devices. These can also cause eye-strain and trigger headaches.
- Using humor. Research has found humor to be an effective way to deal with acute stress.
- Listening to relaxing music
- Practice meditation. You can meditate by simply taking five minutes to relax and shut off your mind to outside disturbances. It may be frustrating to practice at first, but this is a great, simple way to help lower stress. To meditate, follow these steps:
- Find a quiet, comfortable area, such as a private spot at the office, the park, or even at home.
- Get into a comfortable position and sit with your spine straight, cross-legged if possible, or on a chair, the floor or grass.
- Find something to focus on. Pick a meaningful word or phrase and repeat it. You can even focus your attention on a flower or doorknob or simply close your eyes.
- While sitting in comfort and relaxation, don’t be distracted by your thoughts. Instead, try to keep your focus on the word or object for 5–10 minutes or until you feel calm and serene.
- Try tai chi. If you can’t sit still for 5 minutes or more, consider practicing tai chi. Tai chi is composed of slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and deep breathing.
- Practice regularly to master forms of tai chi, up to 15-20 minutes at home twice each day.
- Before beginning a tai chi program, you should check with your doctor and discuss your health needs with the tai chi instructor. Tell your instructor about any health conditions you may have besides acid reflux to help them create a personalized fitness program for you.
EditSeeking Professional Medical Help
- See a doctor for a diagnosis. Home remedies may work some cases, but if your symptoms return consistently, then you should see your doctor. Acid reflux or heartburn may feel like a burning sensation in your chest, or taste like sour liquid in the back of your mouth and usually occurs after eating, stress, physical exercises or lying down. Sometimes acid reflux can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) with additional symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and increased chest pain especially when resting. If you experience any of these symptoms frequently, you should visit your doctor to determine if you may have GERD.
- Ask your doctor about medication for acid reflux. Your doctor may suggest prescription medication to help treat moderate-to-severe symptoms of acid reflux. Whenever you are prescribed medication, it’s important to let your medical provider know about any other medications, herbs or supplements to avoid side effects. Medications that can help are:
- Antacids used to treat mild-to-moderate heartburn. These are the combination of magnesium, calcium, and aluminum with a buffering agent, such as a hydroxide or bicarbonate ion. Antacids can help provide immediate relief that lasts up to an hour. Side effects may include diarrhea or constipation.
- H-2-receptor blockers work to reduce histamine 2, a chemical floating in the stomach that signals it to make acid. These may not provide relief as quickly as antacids, but may be effect for people with severe symptoms of GERD.
- Proton pump inhibitors are more effective than H2 blockers at helping relieve symptoms of moderate-to-severe GERD and heartburn while healing the esophageal lining.
- Your doctor can help determine the right medication and optimal dose for your condition.
- Ask your doctor about side effects of other medicine. Certain medications you might be taking for other ailments can make your acid reflux worse, either as a side effect or causing intolerance. It is important to ask your doctor about other medications and supplements that may make your symptoms worse. Some medications for other conditions that commonly cause problems with acid reflux are:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and Aleve, which may also be associated with an increased risk of peptic ulcers
- Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure or angina
- Anticholinergics for urinary tract infections, allergies, or glaucoma
- Beta adrenergic agonist for asthma or obstructive lung disease
- Bisphosphonates for osteoporosis.
- Some sedatives, antibiotics, potassium, or iron supplements.
- Consider getting surgery. Surgery might be an option for you if medication and lifestyle adjustments don’t help alleviate your acid reflux symptoms and interfere with your daily activities or have caused permanent damage to your esophagus. Your doctor may recommend getting fundoplication, a minimally invasive surgical treatment that involves wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to reinforce and strengthen the LES. This procedure is safe and effective for people of all ages who experience moderate-to-severe symptoms of GERD and wish to avoid life-long dependence on medication.
- Being overweight increases your risk of GERD, and you’re going to suffer from occasional heartburn a lot more as well. This is because unnecessarily added pounds will put pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter. It will be more likely to loosen, and overtime it may simply weaken.
- Prolonged high levels of stress increase the severity of many health problems, including stomach ulcers, acid reflux, and other stomach acid symptoms. Find ways to reduce and manage stress to keep your stomach healthy.
- Sleep Better
EditSources and Citations
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