Skip to Content
Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > GERD: Controlling Heartburn by Changing Your Habits
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be painful
and, if allowed to continue, can lead to complications including esophagitis.
Esophagitis is irritation or inflammation of the esophagus.
can make changes to your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms of GERD. Here
are some things to try:
There are many changes you can make to your lifestyle that can help to
relieve or reduce symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These are
If you smoke or chew tobacco,
stop. The nicotine from tobacco relaxes the valve between the esophagus and
stomach (lower esophageal sphincter). This can allow stomach acid and juices,
the chemicals that break down food in the stomach, to back up (reflux) into the
esophagus, which causes heartburn.
Because the nicotine in tobacco
is addicting, stopping the use of tobacco is more difficult than simply
changing a habit. Those who successfully quit using tobacco usually use a
combination of strategies that may include:
Using more than one of these strategies greatly improves
your chances of successfully quitting. Quitting tobacco use may require several
For more information, see the topic
eating habits, losing weight if necessary, and avoiding foods that increase
symptoms of GERD may make heartburn less likely to occur. Take your spouse or
partner along with you when you go to your doctor to discuss diet habits. It
will be easier to make changes in your diet if your family understands what you
need to do and why.
Changes you may want to make include avoiding
chocolate, peppermint, and alcohol. These can all make GERD worse by relaxing
the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. It also may be a good idea to
eat smaller, more frequent meals.
If you are overweight, lose
weight. Being overweight puts additional pressure on your stomach and increases
the likelihood of heartburn occurring. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can
Certain foods can be associated with reflux. Though they
will not cause GERD, eating these foods can make the symptoms worse, and
avoiding them can help reduce heartburn. These include citrus fruits, mint (such as peppermint and spearmint), fatty and
fried foods, garlic and onions, spicy foods, and tomato-based foods like
spaghetti sauce and pizza. Some people notice that their symptoms get worse
after drinking coffee, tea, soda, or anything with caffeine. If you notice that your symptoms are worse after
eating a specific food, you may want to stop eating it and see if your symptoms
on your stomach may push stomach juices into your esophagus, causing heartburn.
Some ways to reduce heartburn include the following:
head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm)
to 8 in. (20 cm) will help keep
stomach acid from flowing into your esophagus when you are sleeping. You can do
this by putting blocks underneath your bed frame or by placing a foam wedge
under the head of your mattress. Using extra pillows will not work.
Lying down soon after eating will also increase the chance of getting
heartburn. After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night
snacks aren't a good idea.
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Peter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Send Us Your Feedback
North Kansas City Hospital.