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Have you gotten used to feeling heartburn after meals and even when you go to sleep? You might have gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD.

What is GERD?

GERD is the return of the stomach’s contents back up into the esophagus.

In normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and then closes to prevent food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. In someone with GERD, however, the lower esophageal sphincter is either weak or relaxes, allowing the stomach’s contents to flow back into the esophagus.

Who is Affected by GERD?

GERD can affect you at any age, and dietary and lifestyle choices can contribute to its onset. Some foods can act as a trigger for reflux and heartburn, such as:

  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Coffee
  • Alcoholic beverages

Smoking, obesity and pregnancy can also play a role in GERD symptoms, studies have shown.

If GERD isn’t treated, it can cause serious problems down the line, such as sores and scarring in the esophagus, which make swallowing difficult. It can also increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

How Can I Treat GERD?

Fortunately, there are many ways to relieve the symptoms, including making changes in your eating habits and lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Lose the extra weight. If you are overweight, your fat can push up on your stomach, forcing acid back into the esophagus.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco can weaken the muscle between your stomach and esophagus.
  • Sleep on an incline. Using an incline wedge pillow can reduce GERD symptoms at night.
  • Wear loose-fit clothing. Tight clothes put pressure on your abdomen, forcing acid from your stomach into your esophagus.

When to See a Doctor

If diet and lifestyle changes don’t relieve your symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor to determine the best treatment option for you.


Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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