January 01, 2021

What non-drug options are there for managing heartburn?

Q: I take an over-the-counter drug to manage my heartburn, but lately it hasn't been enough. What else can I try before asking about prescription medications?

A: A number of lifestyle measures may help you manage heartburn and other signs and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In fact, experts typically recommend trying them — in addition to over-the-counter drug options — before starting prescription treatment. Steps that have shown some degree of effectiveness include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight — This is the single most important thing you can do to reduce heartburn. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
  • Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol — These actions decrease the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to function properly.
  • Avoiding foods that trigger reflux — Common culprits include fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine.
  • Avoiding lying down after a meal — It's best to wait at least three hours when possible.
  • Elevating the head of your bed
     
  • Elevating the head of your bed — This can help if you regularly experience heartburn while trying to sleep. Place bed risers or blocks under the feet of your bed so that the head is raised by 4 to 6 inches. If elevation isn't possible, insert a wedge between your mattress...