Don’t Let GERD Ruin Your Holiday Fun

By: George Kovacik

You know the feeling…you get up from the table after eating a huge Thanksgiving dinner, sit on the couch and begin to feel that burning sensation in your chest. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects millions of Americans, but if you play your cards right, it doesn’t have to be on the menu this turkey day.

GERD is a combination of heartburn, the burning sensation behind the breastbone, and acid regurgitation coming up into the chest. It might cause an acid or burning taste in your throat, and in some cases, it may feel like food is coming up, especially when you are lying down or bending over. GERD can also manifest itself as chest pain, chronic cough, and changes in voice. Fun stuff.

Tamika Jaswani, a gastroenterologist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group, says GERD is not only caused by the type of foods we eat, but also by the volume of food we eat. As we know, most of us overindulge during the holiday season and this will likely set us up for some uncomfortable symptoms.  Alcohol, smoking, carbonated beverages, fatty or fried foods, citrus and caffeine-based products, tomatoes, chocolate, and peppermint are all triggers for GERD.

“The turkey and green beans themselves may not be high in fat or acid,” Jaswani said. “But as we all know we don’t consume these foods with nothing on them. We tend to put butter, gravy, sour cream, cheese and other high-fat items on these foods and this is what increases the chances you will develop heartburn symptoms.”

When you eat fatty foods, it takes longer for the stomach to empty. High fat foods also lead to relaxation of the muscle barrier separating the stomach from the esophagus causing acid to make its way up the esophagus and trigger those nasty symptoms.

“If possible, try to limit your meal to the size of a salad plate,” Jaswani said. “Don’t eat late or right before you go to bed. Give yourself two to three hours before lying down after eating. Do not smoke and limit alcohol consumption. Incorporate exercise into your day – even during the
holidays.”

Patients who suffer with prolonged acid exposure put themselves at risk for inflammation of the esophagus, scarring and even Barrett’s Esophagus which is a pre-cancerous condition. Over time, this can lead to esophageal cancer. Jaswani adds, some over-the-counter medications can bring
short-term relief, but it’s better to change your diet and lifestyle and not rely on these medications. In fact, back in April, the Food and Drug Administration ordered manufacturers to pull Zantac (Ranitidine) from store shelves because of the ongoing investigation into a cancer causing link.

“Everyone develops bouts with heartburn every now and then, so if it only happens during the holidays, it’s likely because we are eating too much or eating the foods that trigger symptoms,” Jaswani said. “However, if it persists for months after the turkey and dressing have gone away, and you begin to have trouble swallowing, you should see a doctor to try and head off a potential serious illness.”

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