Using natural remedies to treat GERD

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Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, affects up to one-third of Americans. It costs the U.S. 10 billion dollars a year to treat but some patients might not need surgery or drugs to relieve their heartburn.

Today, Bev Kovatch can enjoy a slice of pizza with her grandson Stephen. A few months ago, she would have worried about acid reflux.

"The pain almost feels like you're having a heart attack,” says Kovatch.

Kovatch has GERD, a condition that happens when stomach contents leak back into the esophagus. Treatments include drugs and surgery but Cleveland Clinic doctor Scott Gabbard says there are also natural remedies. The first: chewing gum.

“Chewing gum actually stimulates your saliva production and helps your esophagus to clear some of the acid,” explains Gabbard.

Another way to prevent GERD is to eat smaller meals. Studies show consuming 500 to 600 calories and between 15 and 20 grams of fat at a time decreases heartburn. Also, shedding excess weight can relieve symptoms.

"Weight loss as little as 10 to 15 pounds has also been demonstrated to greatly improve symptoms of reflux,” says Gabbard.

Doctors also recommend to avoid eating three to four hours before bed. For those who experience symptoms at night, doctors are studying a special new pillow. In a pilot trial, the pillow reduced reflux by over 80 percent. It works by elevating the head and forcing patients to lie on their left side.

"Sleeping on the left side decreases acid and stomach contents from coming up from the stomach into the esophagus,” explains Gabbard.

Kovatch used to have GERD symptoms four times a week at night but, now that she uses the pillow, she has only had acid reflux one night in the last six weeks.

Certain foods and beverages such as fried or fatty foods may contribute to the development of GERD.

Primary symptoms can include heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, and chest pain.

Seek immediate emergency help for any chest pain or discomfort.

REPORT #2159

BACKGROUND: Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is a chronic digestive disease that happens when the acid from your stomach flows back into your esophagus. This can be caused by the relaxation of the muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus allowing fluid to flow back into your food pipe. This flow of stomach acid irritates the lining within your esophagus causing GERD symptoms. These symptoms include chest pain (or a burning sensation within your chest), difficulty swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness, sore throat, sensation of a lump in your throat, and regurgitation or acid reflux. This constant backwash can go on to cause an inflamed esophagus or esophagitis. Over time, the inflammation could cause bleeding which could lead to development of Barrett's esophagus which is a precancerous condition.

ACID REFLUX AND GERD: Acid reflux, or the regurgitation of food or sour liquid, is one of the most common digestive conditions that many people experience. More than 60-million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month. It is only when the experience of acid reflux occurs at least twice a week, interferes with your daily life, or when damage to your esophagus is detected that GERD may be diagnosed. There are many treatments available to help control acid reflux before it gets becomes GERD. Many antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids and Tums can help neutralize stomach acid. Although, once the esophagus has become inflamed, more advanced treatment is needed.

GERD PILLOW: A GERD or wedge pillow is now being tested to help those suffering from acid reflux. The pillow works by elevating the torso in order to prevent stomach acid from burning the esophagus during sleep. These pillows are designed to keep their firmness over time, unlike normal pillows which can become flat. The good thing about the GERD pillow treatment is that there are no risks or side effects to using it. Some of the patients in the pilot study were able to avoid surgery by using the special pillow. Cleveland clinic doctors are the first to study the pillow in patients with GERD symptoms and are now studying whether the pillow could help pregnant women, lung transplant patients, and those who cough at night.