The number of people experiencing acid reflux is increasing, but making lifestyle changes could lessen the symptoms. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine recommends making these lifestyle changes to also avoid health complications down the road.

“The increase of acid reflux symptoms is partly due to the rising obesity rate and continued fast food (high fat and low fiber) consumption, along with inactive lifestyles,” said Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag, section chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Baylor. “Not smoking, participating in regular physical activity, eating foods that are low fat and high fiber and maintaining a healthy weight are lifestyle changes that can prevent acid reflux symptoms or reduce them for those who have reflux.”

Symptoms

Acid reflux is a condition where the contents of the stomach, which is mostly acid, do not stay in the stomach and instead go up into the esophagus. This occurrence can generate the following symptoms:

  • Heartburn
  • Acid regurgitation
  • Chest pain
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Belly discomfort
  • Unexplained cough
  • Sore throat

If these symptoms continue for a prolonged period of time especially among those older than 50 years it can injure the esophagus, resulting in esophagitis or Barrett’s esophagus, said El-Serag, also program leader of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences Program at the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center.

What to do

Food plays a major role in acid reflux and modifying eating habits may alleviate reflux symptoms. Generally, a low-fat and high-fiber diet is best.

“If someone is predisposed to acid reflux, I recommend they avoid high-fat foods, wine, strawberries and chocolate,” he said. “I would also suggest losing weight, a doctor can help determine how much is best.”

After eating, the stomach is full of food and excreting acid, which means lying down will make the symptoms worse.

“Brief walks after meals are a good way to gain more exercise and help the stomach empty its contents while having gravity work against the reflux,” El-Serag said. “Physical activity and an active lifestyle can improve the symptoms.”

If an individual is older than 50 years, has daily symptoms, or has a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer and has reflux symptoms, El-Serag recommended they see a gastroenterologist. For individuals with less frequent symptoms and of younger age, he recommended trying antacids or over the counter medications.

Complications

The following are warning signs and symptoms that can occur with acid reflux complications:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Choking
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding from the mouth or rectum
  • Symptoms that do not respond to over the counter medications

People with these symptoms should see a gastroenterologist to rule out other causes for the symptoms, El-Serag said.