Do you often experience a burning sensation in your chest after eating or when lying down? Have you been facing this more and more frequently of late? If you answered yes to both of these questions, chances are, you are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a fancy name for heartburn or acid reflux. It is a digestive disorder that causes bile or acid in the stomach to irritate the lining of the oesophagus or food pipe. Usually, when you eat, a muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter stops the food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into your food pipe. For people with GERD, this muscle weakens or relaxes when it shouldn’t, which lets the stomach’s content flow up and cause a burning sensation in your chest. It might also result in a sour or bitter taste in the back of your mouth or even cause regurgitation of food. Other symptoms include nausea, chest pain, chronic cough, bad breath, sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
GERD in seniors
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With age, our muscles grow weaker, including the lower oesophageal sphincter, resulting in an increased risk of GERD. According to several studies, the risk and severity of GERD is higher for seniors who are overweight. Moreover, certain medications too can prove to be driving factors for heartburn. Therefore, as seniors, developing GERD is pretty common and is likely to worsen with age if proper care is not taken.
However, the condition does not have to ruin your quality of life. Plenty of adults and seniors suffer from GERD yet still live life to the fullest. Usually, OTC antiacids and certain lifestyle changes can provide relief from minor heartburn. For something more serious, prescription meds and even surgery are viable options. To get you started, here are a few tips that can help you manage your condition.
- Eat on time
Eating large meals or eating late at night can increase your risk of experiencing heartburn. Most healthcare practitioners suggest eating 4-6 hours before hitting the bed, so your food gets a chance to be digested prior to lying down.
- Change your sleeping position
How you sleep can affect the extent to which GERD can disrupt your everyday life. Experts suggest elevating your upper body to prevent acid from moving up through the stomach to the throat. Some studies also found that sleeping on your right side may worsen the symptoms.
- Be mindful of triggers
A few too many glasses of coke or wine and a plate of fried pakodas – eating certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn. If you are someone who enjoys their mugs of coffee throughout the day, it might be time to cut down. Studies have found that coffee may temporarily relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
However, it is important to remember that triggers may not be the same for everyone. So, what may cause heartburn for your partner may not affect you similarly. This is where keeping a food diary may prove to be beneficial. Use this diary to make a note of what you eat throughout the day, and how your body reacts to it. Some medications can also worsen your heartburn. If you feel your existing medication is worsening your acid reflux, consult your doctor to confirm the same.
- Cut down on smoking and alcohol
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is known to increase the severity of acid reflux. This is because alcohol can cause an increase in stomach acid and impair the function of relaxing the lower oesophageal sphincter. Smoking too has its adverse effects as it can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter
- Exercise regularly
When you are overweight or have excessive belly fat, it can cause the lower oesophageal sphincter to be pushed upwards, resulting in a condition called hiatal hernia – a leading cause of GERD. Regular exercise can help keep your weight in check and help reduce the risk of acid reflux in the long term.
Prolonged heartburn can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening complications. So, it is crucial that we pay attention to the symptoms and take steps to address them. If you have more than two episodes of heartburn a week, consult your healthcare practitioner.
Often it becomes difficult to distinguish between symptoms of GERD and a heart attack, even for doctors, so if you experience a dull pain in your chest, sweating, and shortness of breath, call emergency services and get to a hospital as soon as possible.