Tis’ the season to be jolly, but for many people, living with gastroesophageal reflux ( GERD) can make it hard to join in on the holiday cheer. With the holidays comes holiday food and many of these foods can cause GERD symptoms to flare up. If you are living with GERD, then you know just how difficult a time of year the holidays can be. Temptation is everywhere. It is a time when overindulgence is encouraged and it can be extremely hard to maintain self-control.
Before I give you some tips on how to survive the holidays with GERD, let’s briefly talk about the disease itself. According to Healthline, 15%-30% of the U.S. population has GERD according to a review from 2014. GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach ( esophagus ). This backwash ( acid reflux ) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.
Many people experience acid reflux from time to time. If you feel a burning sensation in your chest more than twice a week, you might have GERD. The condition is a more serious and long-lasting form of acid reflux.
Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications, but some people with GERD may need stronger meds or surgery to ease symptoms.
Symptoms of GERD
- a burning sensation in your chest ( heartburn ), usually after eating, which might be worse at night
- chest pain
- difficulty swallowing
- regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
If you have nighttime acid reflux, you might experience:
- chronic cough
- new or worsening asthma
- disrupted sleep
- bulging of the top of the stomach up into the diaphragm ( hiatal hernia)
- connective tissue disorder, such as scleroderma
- delayed stomach emptying
Factors that can aggravate acid reflux include:
- eating large meals or eating late at night
- eating certain foods ( triggers ) such as fatty or fried foods
- drinking certain beverages such as alcohol or coffee
- taking certain medications, such as aspirin
Your doctor might be able to diagnose GERD based on a physical exam and history of your signs and symptoms. To confirm a diagnosis of GERD, or to check for complications, one of the more common procedures is through and upper endoscopy ( EGD ). This procedure involves a doctor inserting a thin, flexible tube equipped with a light and camera ( endoscope ) down your throat, under light sedation, to examine the inside of your esophagus and stomach. Biopsies can also be taken during the procedure. Upper GI series x-rays are another way to diagnose GERD.
- Over-the-counter medications
- Antacids that neutralize stomach acid such as Mylanta, Rolaids and Tums.
- Medications to reduce acid production. These medications- known as H-2-receptor blockers- include Tagamet, Pepcid AC and Zantac. They don’t act as quickly as antacids, but they provide longer relief and may decrease acid production from the stomach for up to 12 hours.
- Medications that block acid production and heal the esophagus, known as proton pump inhibitors ( PPI’s), are stronger acid blockers than H-2-receptor blockers and allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal. Examples of these include Prevacid 24 HR, Prilosec otc and Zegerid otc.
There are also a number of prescription-strength medications that may be necessary for more severe cases. If GERD cannot be controlled with medications and you wish to avoid long-term medications, there are surgical options available as well.
Holiday foods can be a treat, however, a lot of them can be bad news for people with GERD. According to WebMD, here are 9 hints to help get you through the holiday temptations.
- Nibble, don’t gorge. How much you eat makes a difference so don’t pile your plate too high.
- Don’t eat rich. What you eat can also provoke heartburn symptoms. Fat and sugar are the most obvious culprits.
- Front-load you meal. Desserts can be a problem especially ones that contain chocolate, peppermint or citrus.
- Order hors d’oeuvres. At many parties, the light appetizers are a better bet to avoid heartburn. Look for things like steamed shrimp, salmon and other protein-rich but volume-light nibbles. Veggie trays are also a good bet, but watch what you’re dipping your veggies in.
- Accept substitutes. When it comes to desserts, consider angel food cake instead of a large piece of chocolate cake. Fruit and yogurt are also good alternatives.
- Take your time. People get more heartburn when they eat quickly. Slow down and savor.
- Get up! After a big holiday meal, everyone’s tempted to lie down on the couch to nap or watch football and parades. That’s the worst thing you can do for heartburn.
- Toast- but don’t get toasted. A glass of wine or champagne to celebrate the holiday probably won’t spur an attack of heartburn, but beware, the more you drink, the more likely you could experience heartburn.
- Plan ahead for relief from heartburn. Keep your heartburn medicine with you at all times.
Hopefully these tips can help you take control of your GERD symptoms over the holidays. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. Now that you know what to do, it’s time to go out and enjoy the season without pain. Happy, Happy Holidays to all!!!