MAYWOOD, Ill. – President Obama’s recent diagnosis of acid reflux is prompting wide awareness of an ailment that is especially prevalent at this time of year. Fortunately, acid reflux and its complications can be avoided, as a Loyola gastroenterologist explains.
“The rich party foods, alcoholic beverages, stress, travel schedules and late nights all contribute to gastric imbalance that can present as acid reflux disease,” says Mukund Venu, MD, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Signs of acid reflux disease include a burning sensation in your chest and/or throat, a persistent cough, burping and bloating.”
Venu, assistant professor of Gastroenterology at Stritch, says triggers for acid reflux disease include holiday favorites such as high-fat foods, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and citric acid. Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when acid located in the stomach enters the esophagus.
“Normally, a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter tightens after food enters but if it opens too often or does not close all the way, acid moves from the stomach up the throat causing extreme discomfort,” Venu says. “Obesity is a well-documented factor in acid reflux disease.”
Lifestyle changes are the first line of defense. “Do not lie down until at least three hours after you eat,” he advises. “Try sleeping at a 45-degree angle to keep acid in the stomach.”
Other suggestions to maintain good digestive health include avoiding caffeine and fatty foods, maintaining a regular eating and sleeping cycle as well as preventing extreme weight fluctuation.
“If you suffer from persistent heartburn, see a board certified gastroenterologist and have an upper endoscopic exam performed,” says Venu, who specializes in GERD at Loyola University Medical Center and regularly supervises gastroenterology research trials. “If lifestyle changes do not work, your gastroenterologist will likely prescribe a medication known as proton pump inhibitors once a day, usually before breakfast.” A proton pump inhibitor is a liquid or pill that reduces the production of acid in the stomach.
“If acid reflux is left untreated, esophageal cancer or a disease called Barrett’s Esophagus can occur,” he warns. “With a few lifestyle modifications, most people find relief.”