| Tue, Dec 19, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

Acid Reflux and GERD: Lifestyle Changes May be All That’s Needed

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

senior woman talking with healthcare professionalMost of us have had a bout of acid reflux at some point in our lives. It’s unpleasant and may be painful. Some people may even have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Though many people often confuse one term for the other, these conditions are not interchangeable.

The Mechanics of Acid Reflux and GERD

Acid reflux happens when the esophageal sphincter isn’t working properly. Here’s how it works:

The circular band of muscle (esophageal sphincter) around the bottom part of your esophagus acts as a valve. When you eat or drink something, the valve relaxes and allows the food or liquid to pass through to the stomach. Then the valve closes again. If the valve weakens, stomach acid or other stomach contents may flow backward into the esophagus. You may have a strong or sour taste in the back of your throat. You may also have heartburn, which is a burning sensation in your chest*.

GERD is a more serious and chronic form of acid reflux. If you have GERD, you’ll experience the same symptoms as acid reflux, but more frequently. You may also have a dry cough, wheezing, sore throat, chest pain* or have a hard time swallowing.


It’s important to take control of acid reflux and GERD. Stomach acid is corrosive and may lead to long term or serious health conditions. In some people, the acid may cause inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus. Constant backwash of stomach acid may also lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition of the esophageal lining.3


If you have occasional acid reflux, lifestyle changes may be all that’s needed to correct the problem. These may include:

  • Lose weight
  • Wear looser fitting clothes, especially around the mid-section
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Avoid “trigger” foods, like peppermint, chocolate, tomato, or anything fried or fatty
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine
  • Don’t eat too late at night
  • Sleep with your head propped up on pillows

If the symptoms of occasional acid reflux continue, there are several types of over-the-counter medications available that may help you.1

  • Antacids
  • H-2-receptor blockers
  • Proton pump inhibitors

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medications.

If you continue to have problems with acid reflux or if you take over-the-counter medications for heartburn more than twice a week, you may have GERD.Schedule an appointment to see your doctor.

If you have GERD, your doctor may recommend certain medications in addition to lifestyle changes. Your doctor may also check for irritation or damage to the esophagus. If damage is found or suspected, your doctor may prescribe a medication that coats the esophageal lining and helps protect it until the damage heals. In severe cases of GERD, surgery or other procedures may be required.

* Chest pain caused by heartburn is often confused with the symptoms of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you have chest pain or a heavy feeling in your chest, especially if you have other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath, jaw pain, pain spreading to the arm or shoulder, nausea, or sweating. These may be signs of a heart attack.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


GER and GERD in Adults: Diagnosis, treatment plans and more for people diagnosed with GER and GERD — NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease

Diseases and Conditions, GERD: Learn the causes, symptoms, risk factors and more. —MayoClinic.org

Medicare Made Clear: Keep current with Medicare information. — MedicareMadeClear.com


Is acid reflux the same as GERD?Michael F. Picco, M.D., Mayo Clinic, August 7, 2013

Diseases and Conditions, GERD, Symptoms: Mayo Clinic, July 31, 2014

Diseases and Conditions, GERD, Causes: Mayo Clinic, July 31, 2014


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