January 05, 2021 6 min read

If you’ve ever experienced the burning sensation of heartburn — or are currently struggling with it — you probably searched high and low for relief. Heartburn, chest pain, coughing, and trouble swallowing, are among the many uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux. Consequences of acid reflux can range from discomfort and ruined meals to esophageal damage with prolonged exposure.

In this post, we’ll define the connection between acid reflux and heartburn, explain how to prevent heartburn, and go over how to reduce acid reflux symptoms when they arise. Read on for a comprehensive overview of acid reflux management and prevention or use the links below to navigate to a specific topic.

What Are The Symptoms of Acid Reflux?

Before we discuss how to reduce acid reflux, let’s start with a quick description of what acid reflux is and what its symptoms, including heartburn, look like. 

Acid reflux is caused by a malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscles that restricts the backflow of stomach acid when functioning properly. When the LES relaxes rather than constricts, stomach acid and partially digested food can escape from the stomach and enter the esophagus. As a result of this malfunction, you may feel heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux.

Symptoms of acid reflux can include:

  • Heartburn
  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Sour or bitter taste in your mouth
  • Hoarseness

Note: GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is the chronic form of acid reflux, usually diagnosed when one experiences symptoms twice per week, or more.

Risk Factors for Acid Reflux and Heartburn

Like most medical conditions, there are certain individuals that are more at risk for experiencing heartburn or developing a consistent issue with acid reflux that can lead to more severe conditions, like GERD.

risk factors for gerd infographic

According to the Mayo Clinic1, the following conditions can increase your risk of acid reflux-related disease:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • A bulging of the top of the stomach into the diaphragm (hiatal hernia)
  • Connective tissue disorders (i.e. scleroderma) 
  • Delayed stomach emptying

While most of the aforementioned risk factors involve environmental triggers, recent studies have examined the role genetics play in gastrointestinal conditions. One study found that genetics accounted for 31% of GERD cases, signaling a strong connection between family history and acid reflux.2

GERD genetics statistics infograph

In addition to genetic and environmental risk factors, there are several other personal circumstances that can intensify or trigger acid reflux, including:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol or caffeine
  • Eating large meals
  • Eating late at night
  • Taking medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen

Now that you know a bit more about how certain habits, environmental factors, and inherited traits can influence heartburn, let’s talk about prevention.

How to Prevent Acid Reflux

In many cases, avoiding triggers and other risk factors can help to prevent the onset of acid reflux symptoms. In this section, we’ll discuss lifestyle changes and healthy habits that can potentially prevent heartburn and other acid reflux issues.

1. Modify your diet and eating schedule

Like many other health conditions, acid reflux can largely be avoided by maintaining a healthy diet. According to the Wexner Medical Center3, there are a number of foods that can help curb your acid reflux as well as some that can aggravate your symptoms — more on that in a minute.

Which foods help prevent acid reflux? Green leafy vegetables, lean meats, egg whites, oatmeal, noncitrus fruits, and healthy fats help reduce inflammation and absorb excess stomach acid, minimizing the potential for reflux. Check out our blog to find recipes for acid reflux relief.

In addition to changing whatyou eat, acid reflux experts also recommend adjusting whenyou eat. Lying down immediately after eating — like when you eat right before bedtime — interrupts the digestive process and eliminates the gravitational pull that helps keep acid in your stomach, where it belongs. Try to avoid eating late at night and give your stomach time to digest properly before lying down.

2. Avoid food and drink triggers

As we mentioned earlier on in this post, there are some foods that help your acid reflux and others that can make it worse. Fatty, fried, spicy, and citrusy foods are common culprits of heartburn and should be avoided to prevent acid reflux flare ups. Additionally, alcohol and caffeinated drinks can trigger reflux symptoms.

3. Maintain a healthy weight

As you learned earlier on in this post, excess weight is one of many risk factors for acid reflux and other gastrointestinal diseases. If you’re wondering how to prevent acid reflux frequency and intensity, any doctor would likely start by assessing your weight. Carrying extra weight, especially near your abdomen, can increase pressure and force stomach acid back into your esophagus, causing heartburn.

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders4 suggests following these simple steps toward healthy weight management:

  • Plan meals ahead of time so you don’t give into unhealthy options
  • Know your serving sizes to avoid overeating
  • Don’t drink your calories — avoid soda and other sugary drinks 

4. Wear loose-fitting clothing

Much like excess weight can force stomach acid back into your esophagus, so can tight-fitting clothing. Try to opt for loose-fitting clothing while you’re eating or when you’re experiencing more consistent acid reflux flare ups.

5. GERD surgery

Though it’s typically a last-resort solution, GERD surgery is one method for preventing and potentially resolving acid reflux issues. There are several types of GERD surgery — the type you should undergo depends on the severity of your condition, your medical history, and your doctor’s directive:

  • Fundoplication
  • Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF)
  • Stretta Procedure
  • Bard EndoCinch System
  • Linx Surgery

6. Adjust your sleeping posture

Some of the prevention tips we’ve discussed are much more complicated than others, but a simple adjustment in your sleeping posture could prove to be among the most effective methods for relief. Yes, you read that right — quelling your heartburn and acid reflux symptoms can happen in your sleep.

After studying why acid reflux symptoms often spike at night, physicians found that a simple adjustment in sleeping posture can provide nighttime relief and significantly reduce exposure to harmful stomach acid. Because of the way gravity aids the digestive process and helps keep acid and stomach contents below the LES, they found that sleeping at an incline on the left side was the best position for sleeping with acid reflux and GERD. At the same time, sleeping on your back can actually agitate acid reflux symptoms. 

MedCline’s patented Reflux Relief System helps you stay off your back and sleep comfortably in the recommended elevated, left-side position for reflux relief. 

Here’s how it works: Using a three-component construction, our GERD pillow gently elevates your torso to keep stomach acid where it belongs and allows your downside arm to rest effortlessly within a built-in arm pocket. Clinical studies of the device found that 93% of patients experienced a reduction in heartburn after using the Reflux Relief System, and results showed significant improvement in patients with the following conditions:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR) 
  • Gestational Reflux

woman holding chest from GERD pain

What Helps Acid Reflux Go Away?

Learning how to prevent acid reflux is a big part of managing your symptoms, but sometimes even when you’re doing all the right things, you’ll feel heartburn start to creep up. In this section, we’ll focus on how to reduce acid reflux using medication and home remedies for quick heartburn relief.

How to reduce acid reflux with medication

Over-the-counter reflux medication is one of the most common methods used to address heartburn when symptoms appear. If you don’t have a prescription from your doctor, you’ll likely have the following over-the-counter options to choose from:

  • Antacids (i.e. Tums) 
  • H2-blockers (i.e. Zantac)
  • Low-dose proton pump inhibitors (i.e. Prilosec OTC)

Which foods neutralize stomach acid?

Another way to reduce heartburn symptoms when they arise is to eat foods that neutralize your stomach acid5, such as:

  • Ginger
  • Chewing gum
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt 
  • Oatmeal
  • Green, leafy vegetables

In addition to reflux-relieving foods, both milk and papaya tea can help quell heartburn symptoms.

man talking to doctor about GERD symptoms

Key Takeaways

Depending on the severity and frequency of your symptoms, heartburn and acid reflux can cause mild or moderate disruptions in daily life — from discomfort after dinner to sleepless nights, finding relief is essential to getting your life back. As you work with your doctor to find the right course of action for your situation, keep these key takeaways in mind:

How do you prevent acid reflux?:
  • Modify your diet
  • Avoid triggers foods and drinks
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Wear loose clothing rather than tight-fitting clothes
  • Ask your doctor about GERD surgery
  • Adjust your sleeping position
How do you reduce acid reflux?:  
  • Try over-the-counter medications, like antacids, H-2 blockers, and PPIs
  • Use home remedies, like chewing gum, eating ginger, or incorporating ingredients that neutralize your stomach acid into your diet.

References

  • “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease,” Mayo Clinic,https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940 1 Dec. 2020
  • “Risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease and analysis of genetic contributors,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6107529/, 1 Dec. 2020
  • “How to stop acid reflux,” Ohio State, Wexner Medical Center,https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/how-to-stop-acid-reflux, 1 Dec. 2020
  • “Reduce Heartburn by Burning Calories,” International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders,”https://www.aboutgerd.org/diet-lifestyle-changes/reduce-heartburn-by-burning-calories.html, 1 Dec. 2020
  • “5 Top Foods to Stave Off Acid Reflux Symptoms,” AARP,https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2017/foods-help-acid-reflux-fd.html,1 Dec. 2020