Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where the contents of the stomach rise into the esophagus, or food pipe. This can cause heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain, among other symptoms.

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To help a person manage the often painful and uncomfortable symptoms of GERD, doctors may recommend home remedies. These can include avoiding food triggers, eating smaller meals, and having dinner early in the evening.

If symptoms persist, doctors may also recommend medical treatment, such as surgery or certain medications.

Keep reading to learn about 15 home remedies, medical treatment, and what can happen if a person does not seek treatment.

Certain foods and beverages may trigger symptoms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) state that common food triggers for GERD include:

Learn more about foods to include and avoid with GERD here.

In addition to the foods people eat, the way in which they eat may also make a difference. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommend the following eating habits:

Eat smaller meals

Large meals empty slowly from the stomach. This puts more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and can aggravate symptoms.

Therefore, to prevent the onset of symptoms, a person can eat smaller meals more frequently rather than bigger meals less often.

Eat bigger meals earlier

Even having a small snack before bed can cause symptoms such as acid reflux to flare up overnight. This is partly due to the change in posture that occurs while the body is still trying to digest.

To avoid this, a person could have their main meal at lunchtime and enjoy a lighter meal at dinnertime.

A person can also try having dinner early rather than right before bedtime. This way, the body has more time to digest the food.

Eat in a relaxed environment

To aid digestion, a person should make sure they are eating meals in as relaxed an environment as possible.

Any extra stress could cause the muscles to tense up, which in turn could aggravate GERD symptoms.

Focus only on eating during meals

A person should also avoid exerting themselves during meals. This includes tending to children or making frequent trips to the kitchen while eating.

A person’s posture and the activities they engage in after a meal may affect digestion.

The IFFGD offer the following suggestions to alleviate symptoms of GERD:

Sit up straight

Gravity helps control reflux, so maintaining an upright posture for several hours following a meal can help prevent heartburn.

Therefore, a person should also avoid taking naps after lunch.

Elevate the head when sleeping

If symptoms tend to occur when a person is asleep, they should try to change their sleeping position so that their esophagus is above the stomach.

For example, a person could insert a wedge under the head of their bed to elevate it. This allows for their esophagus to be higher than their legs.

Avoid certain activities after eating

A person should not engage in any physical activity after a meal. This could cause the abdominal muscles to contract, which can force food back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

In particular, a person should avoid tasks that involve bending over, such as cleaning the floor and lifting objects.

According to a 2016 study, there are links between smoking and symptoms of GERD.

In the study, the researchers examined the effect that quitting smoking had on people with GERD who were already smokers. They found it significantly reduced symptoms.

Their findings led them to conclude that doctors should recommend quitting smoking to individuals who smoke and have GERD.

Learn 11 tips on quitting smoking here.

One 2014 review indicates that GERD is becoming more and more prevalent in the United States. The major factor underlying the trend is the rise in obesity.

While studies have not established that weight loss through dietary changes can help GERD, data show weight loss through gastric bypass surgery consistently decreases symptoms.

Scientific research has suggested supplements may help a person ease the symptoms of GERD.

Ginger

A 2014 review explored the effect of ginger supplements on children with GERD and found that they helped reduce symptoms.

The children tolerated the supplements well and only showed side effects when the doses were larger than 5 grams per day.

However, doctors do not recommend ginger for people who have a bleeding disorder, as it is a potent blood thinner.

Moreover, individuals taking ginger supplements should discontinue them before having a surgical procedure.

Licorice

According to the same 2014 review, people have used licorice for a long time to alleviate symptoms of gastric inflammation. It has shown improvements in small studies whose participants had GERD.

However, licorice has some properties that can cause side effects, such as high blood pressure. Therefore, a person should opt for deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which will not produce these effects.

While the researchers in the study acknowledge the potential benefits of licorice, they also call for more evidence to back up claims that it can help ease symptoms of acid reflux.

The American Gastroenterological Association note that pressure on the belly may worsen reflux.

Avoid wearing tight clothing

One way a person can prevent putting too much pressure on the belly is by not wearing tight clothing. This can include tight everyday clothes and clothing items designed to shape the body.

Avoid certain exercises

Also, avoid some exercises that may increase belly pressure, such as:

A 2020 review investigated the effect of breathing exercises on people with GERD and found that they reduced symptoms.

Breathing exercises also decreased the need for taking acid-suppressing medications and improved quality of life.

According to the study, individuals with the condition who take drug therapy may get more relief if they combine the therapy with professional breathing exercises.

One example of a breathing exercise that can help ease symptoms of GERD is so-called belly breathing. A person can practice this when sitting, standing, or lying down, by following these steps:

  1. Put one hand just below the ribs and the other on the chest.
  2. Breathe in deeply through the nose. The belly will rise and push the hand up. Keep the chest still.
  3. Breathe out as slowly as possible through pursed lips. This can look like soundless whistling. Let the hand on the belly sink down as the breath leaves the body.
  4. Repeat slowly 3–10 times.

Medical treatment for GERD consists of medications and surgery.

Medications

The NIDDK list the following medication options for GERD:

  • Antacids: Doctors may recommend over-the-counter antacids to relieve mild GERD symptoms. A person should not take these drugs for severe symptoms or for daily use without consulting their doctor.
  • H2 blockers: These drugs lower acid production in the stomach. They are available over the counter or by prescription.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Doctors may recommend PPIs for long-term treatment of GERD. These drugs lower acid production in the stomach more than H2 blockers do.

Surgery

Surgery is an option if lifestyle changes and medications do not decrease GERD symptoms. The NIDDK state that doctors may advise one of the following procedures:

  • Fundoplication: In most cases, fundoplication causes long-term improvement, so it is the most common type of surgery for GERD. It involves sewing the top of the stomach to the end of the esophagus. This increases pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and eases acid reflux.
  • Bariatric surgery: An example of this procedure, also known as weight loss surgery, is gastric bypass surgery. Doctors may recommend this type of weight loss surgery for people with GERD who have obesity.
  • Endoscopy: This procedure is only appropriate for a small number of cases. As part of it, a doctor inserts a tube with an attached camera down a person’s esophagus and then delivers a treatment.

The NIDDK note that the following factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing GERD:

Without treatment, GERD can lead to serious complications. According to the NIDDK, these can include:

  • Esophagitis: This condition results from inflammation of the esophagus, which can cause ulcers and bleeding.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: This condition involves the replacement of the tissue lining the esophagus with tissue similar to the intestinal lining. In a small number of people, it leads to esophageal cancer.
  • Esophageal stricture: This condition stems from the narrowing of the esophagus.

Aside from issues in the esophagus, GERD can cause complications in other parts of the body. The complications include:

A person with GERD can try several home remedies to manage symptoms. These include eating smaller meals and avoiding eating before going to bed.

A person interested in GERD home remedies may wish to try ginger supplements. However, they should seek guidance from their doctor first.

Lifestyle changes may also help. These include quitting smoking, reaching or maintaining a moderate weight, and staying in an upright position after meals.

When home remedies and lifestyle changes do not relieve symptoms, doctors may prescribe medications or recommend surgery.