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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

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Lifestyle changes can control the symptoms of GERD and may help prevent possible complications caused by GERD symptoms.

General Guidelines for Managing GERD/Heartburn

  • Avoid specific eating and drinking habits.
  • Quit smoking.
  • After eating, wait to lie down.
  • After eating, wait to exercise.
  • Don’t wear tight clothes or belts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Elevate your head when sleeping.
Avoid Specific Eating and Drinking Habits

To help manage your GERD symptoms, try to avoid eating large meals or eating too fast.

Other ways to manage GERD symptoms include:

Avoiding certain foods such as:

  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomato-based products
  • Chocolate
  • Mint

Avoiding certain beverages such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Carbonated drinks
Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes weakens the lower esophageal sphincter. Not smoking can help reduce GERD symptoms.

After Eating, Wait to Lie Down

After eating meals, wait at least 2-3 hours before lying down. This may lessen reflux by giving the stomach time to empty.

After Eating, Wait to Exercise

Exercise or strenuous activity immediately after eating can cause stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. Wait at least 2-3 hours after eating to exercise.

Don’t Wear Tight Clothes or Belts

Wearing clothing or belts that are too tight can increase the reflux of stomach acid by increasing abdominal pressure. For the same reason, avoid bending over or straining, especially soon after meals.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

If you are overweight, losing weight and bringing your weight within the healthy range can help reduce the symptoms of GERD.

Elevate Your Head When Sleeping

Elevate the head of your bed by placing 4-6 inch blocks under the legs at the head of the bed. This reduces heartburn by allowing gravity to minimize reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if new symptoms develop or old symptoms persist, worsen, or recur despite changing your lifestyle habits.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 05/08/2014 -
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal%5Fdisorders/esophageal%5Fand%5Fswallowing%5Fdisorders/gastroesophageal%5Freflux%5Fdisease%5Fgerd.html. Updated May 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Katz PO, Gerson LB, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.

  • Understanding heartburn and reflux disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/heartburn-gerd. Published April 25, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2010.