People with reflux disease often discover that there are certain things they do which make their symptoms worse. Making a few lifestyle modifications could help you successfully manage your condition.
If you have had a positive diagnosis of reflux, and have consulted with your doctor, the following suggestions could help alleviate your symptoms.
1 Eat less and more often: try eating smaller portions at regular intervals rather than larger meals.
Why? Reflux is when acid, pepsin and other gastric contents escape out of the stomach and up into the oesophagus and potentially beyond in LPR. When you’ve got a stomach full of food, it can put pressure on the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) – the ring of muscle or valve located at the bottom of the oesophagus. If the LOS becomes weakened, it can become partially or even totally open for most of the time – resulting in acid and gastric juices refluxing back up into the oesophagus.
2 Don’t eat late at night: try to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before retiring to bed.
Why? When you go to bed and are lying down, the contents of your tummy are pressing on the LOS. This means that at night time, gastric juices leaking into the oesophagus can stay there for much longer than during the day. Not only that; but symptoms such as heartburn can keep you awake at night, which has an impact on your daily life.
3 Eat slowly: try taking your time when eating meals and snacks.
Why? Research has shown that a rapid intake of food can increase pressure on the LOS and the rate at which this valve can open and close effectively.
4 Wear loose-fitting clothes: try unbuckling your belt and loosening fasteners on your clothes.
Why? It’s best to avoid wearing any tight clothing across your abdomen because it can also put pressure on your LOS and result in stomach contents being pushed into the oesophagus.
5 Watch what you eat: try cutting back on foods that aggravate your symptoms.
Why? There are certain foods and drinks that are known to trigger reflux symptoms including caffeine-based drinks, fatty foods and citrus fruits. Read our blog post on foods to avoid and reflux-friendly alternatives.
6 Keep a symptom diary: try to keep a record of when your symptoms appear.
Why? Making a note of when your symptoms are prominent, foods you’ve eaten, emotions/mood, and activities in which you’ve taken part in an organised manner, can provide insight as to what factors may contribute to your condition. You can then try some of the lifestyle changes suggested here and record how your symptoms change, or try all these ideas and, if symptoms return, reintroduce keeping a diary.
7 Watch your weight: try to maintain a healthy weight.
Why? Weight gain is considered a risk factor for reflux disease, with symptoms high in overweight and obese people. If someone is overweight, the excessive abdominal fat increases pressure on the stomach and can cause the LOS to relax.
8 Stop smoking: try not to smoke
Why? Research has shown that people who quit smoking often show significant improvements in their reflux symptoms. This is because smoking can irritate delicate mucus membranes lining the airways, can damage muscles in the throat that control the gag reflex, increase acid secretion, limit LOS function and reduce the amount of saliva you produce – and saliva helps neutralises the effect of gastric acid.
9 Avoid alcohol: try to cut back on booze
Why? Some researchers say alcohol, especially red wine, can increase reflux symptoms with one study finding that the severity of reflux symptoms increased when people increased their alcohol intake. Drinking can make your stomach produce more acid than usual and can irritate the stomach’s lining.
10 Exercise regularly, but sensibly: try to keep fit
Why? Exercise, especially vigorous workouts or moves that involve lying flat, can sometimes trigger reflux symptoms including heartburn. This is because the LOS muscle can become too relaxed, leading to stomach contents going up into your oesophagus. Try to wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising and try to determine what types of exercise exacerbate your symptoms. It might be better to take part in moderate physical activity such as walking on a regular basis rather than high-intensity exercise.
11 Drink lots of water: try to take on fluids
Why? Drinking water may help decrease symptoms of reflux disease. Some people recommend drinking alkaline (pH 8.8) water which is said to denature the stomach enzyme pepsin.
12 Sort your sleeping habits: find a comfortable position
Why? Research has found that the way you sleep can have a big effect on your health with certain positions making it more or less likely you will suffer from nocturnal reflux. It’s best to sleep on your left side as reflux happens less often in this position – some researchers even claim leaked stomach contents take longer to drain out of the oesophagus in those who sleep on their right side. Raise the head of your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your feet – it’s a simple case of gravity. The backflow of gastric juice from the stomach into the oesophagus during reflux can flow to your throat and larynx, causing you to experience coughing.