The last time I visited the dentist for teeth cleaning and examination, the hygienist tilted the chair to a negative recline position. That is, my head was lower than the rest of my body. Within a few minutes, I felt extreme heartburn and asked to have the chair position adjusted differently.
I’m part of the 60-percent of Americans who experience some form of gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD. Several studies also show that approximately 15-percent of people in the Western world suffer from the condition. This year, about 25-percent of us will feel weekly symptoms. Primary or secondary GERD diagnosis increased by over 200-percent over the past two decades. The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that symptoms of GERD account for about $2,000,000,000 in lost productivity each year. GERD can be a serious problem during pregnancy.
If you’ve ever experienced a full-on attack of GERD, you know it can be terrifying. The few times it happened to me were at the beginning of the sleep cycle. The sensation of awakening to the inability to breathe is certainly one I wish to prevent. GERD has certainly changed my lifestyle.
Many Americans will be overeating during tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feasts. Overindulgence is expected and promoted during the entire holiday season. People with GERD know, first hand, that overeating is a big no-no. Too much food in the stomach often causes the pain of a GERD attack.
You may suspect uncomplicated GERD if you experience frequent heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, acid-induced erosions of your teeth, chronic coughing, laryngitis, and ear pain. More serious complications include inflammation or infection of the lungs and bronchitis. Any of these symptoms warrant consultation with your physician.
Meantime, there are some ways to minimize the occurrences of GERD:
Most effective is cutting back the amount of food eaten at one sitting. Here is where mindfulness can help. Sit and take time during each meal. Fully experience and enjoy each mouthful. Every few bites put down the fork.
Avoid mint and peppermint because these substances relax the esophagus and the upper stomach sphincter. If you chew gum, choose cinnamon or a non-minty flavor. Limit the amount of fluid intake during meals in order to minimize stomach content. Take only small sips of water while eating.
Don’t lie down after meals. It’s important to not lie flat for a minimum of two hours following a meal or snack. During regular bed rest, keep the upper body elevated by placing a foam wedge under the mattress or using an adjustable mattress system. If you’re a belly sleeper, learn to sleep in a different position. I used to sleep on my belly, so the added pressure caused leakage of stomach acid into my esophogas.
Pay attention to what you eat and make note of potential trigger foods. Major suspects might include tomatoes, garlic, onions, and hot peppers. Other common suspects include fried or fatty foods, chocolate, mints, citrus fruits and juices, plus coffee or tea.
Enjoy some moderate exercise. Low-impact activity such as walking keeps the body upright and helps one lose weight. Overweight and obesity are major causes of GERD. Try to walk for half-an-hour most days. Rehydrate with regular water.
Whatever you do, do not ignore chronic heartburn symptoms. Left untreated, GERD can lead to much more serious conditions.
The Blue Jay of Happiness smiles at this supposed Jewish tradition: A container of schmaltz (liquid chicken grease) is kept on the table to give vampires heartburn if they get through the garlic defense.