Acid reflux, which is commonly known as heartburn is a common complaint in many people. More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, while some studies also report that more than 15 million Americans experience symptoms of heartburn each day.1 Acid reflux or heartburn is also more common among the elderly and pregnant women.
While this can occur as a single complaint bothering you once in a while, it can also be a symptom of an underlying health problem. Most of the time, acid reflux occurs around the time of food intake. In this article, we will discuss what to do if there is acid reflux after several hours of having meals.
Acid Reflux After Several Hours Of Having Meals
While medications to treat acid reflux are available, more emphasis is given on lifestyle measures to prevent or manage acid reflux after several hours of having meals.
Acid reflux is a condition in which the acid contents of the stomach flow back into the esophagus. This is medically termed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux is experienced as a feeling of burning discomfort, sometimes pain behind the breastbone or sternum. This is also called retrosternal burning or pain. This may be accompanied by a pressure feeling that moves up towards the throat, with burning in the throat, bitter or sour taste at the back of the throat. It occurs due to regurgitation of food contents or acid back into the esophagus and sometimes up to the throat. It may also cause nausea, dislike for food, and result in less intake of food. These complaints can last for several hours but sometimes maybe more after having food. Acid reflux after several hours of having food could be a sign of an underlying problem, which must be evaluated.
Normally, a valve present at the junction of the esophagus and stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) prevents the backflow of food contents and stomach acid. However, sometimes, the valve gets easily relaxed allowing the backflow of stomach acid. If this occurs for a long time, the esophageal lining comes in frequent contact with acid and can get damaged causing burning pain.
What To Do For Acid Reflux After Several Hours Of Having Meals?
Acid reflux, particularly when it occurs after several hours of having meals can worsen with certain factors like intake of a particular type of food, less or more intake of food, sitting or sleeping position, amount of activity, or inactivity done after having food and certain lifestyle choices. These are considered as trigger factors and controlling these may also help in managing acid reflux after several hours of having meals.
Some important dietary changes and lifestyle modifications can help you keep acid reflux in control. Here is what to do when you have acid reflux after several hours of having meals.
Avoid Food Triggers
Certain foods may increase the frequency of acid reflux. Fat intake, spicy foods can increase the perception of symptoms. Regular coffee or chocolate can release the valve and induce acid reflux. Beer and wine too can worsen acid reflux especially, an hour after the intake.2 While there is fewer data available on foods like fried food, carbonated beverages, many people complaint worsening of symptoms after having such foods. Instead, have fresh, nutritious foods that are soothing and easily digestible. Include probiotics in your diet to improve digestion.
Avoid Smoking or Drinking Alcohol
Smoking and tobacco stimulate acid production in the stomach and also easily relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing the stomach acid to regurgitate.1 Alcohol too acts as a stimulant and increases the risk of acid reflux. Hence it is best to quit smoking completely and avoid or at least limit alcohol intake if you experience acid reflux after several hours of having meals.
Type of Diet
Mediterranean diet and low carbohydrate diet are believed to protect against acid reflux.2 If the foods included in these type of diet work well for you, these diets may be helpful. The Mediterranean diet suggests frequent consumption of traditional dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, as against red meat, sweets, fried and junk food.3 Some studies have also shown that a very low carbohydrate diet in obese people with gastroesophageal disease significantly reduces esophageal acid exposure and improves symptoms of acid reflux.4
Plan Your Meals
Plan your meals throughout the day such that they meet your nutritional needs and have a mix of healthy foods.
Eat slowly so that you can chew your food well, which promotes better digestion.
Avoid overeating. Having larger meals can expand your stomach and exert more pressure upwards.5 This can easily relax the esophageal valve and cause acid reflux.
You can plan to have smaller, frequent meals instead of having a few larger meals. You can also alternate large meals with small ones to have enough gaps for digestion.
Avoid exercising or bending over after eating if you have acid reflux after several hours of having meals. As these positions and activities compress the stomach and trigger acid reflux.
Sip on the water to relieve symptoms of acid reflux after several hours of having meals. Frequent sips of water help in the management of acid reflux and cough induced due to ineffective motility by improving esophageal clearance of acid.6
A study was conducted on a group of people experiencing acid reflux after several hours of having meals. The results showed that chewing gum after a meal helps to reduce postprandial esophageal acid exposure.7
Avoid Sleeping Soon After Meals
It is usually advised that people with acid reflux should refrain from eating within three hours of going to sleep. Studies have shown that shorter dinner to bedtime was significantly associated with an increased chance of acid reflux.8 Hence, it is best to avoid sleeping soon after your meals and also avoid late-night snacking.
Sleep Position – Raise Your Head
If you experience acid reflux after several hours of having meals, you can raise your headrest, especially if you are lying on your back. Studies have shown that bed head elevation helps reduce esophageal acid exposure and acid clearance time in people having acid reflux and sleeping on their backs. This offers relief from heartburn and sleeps disturbance.9 Make sure your head and neck are well-supported or use a bed wedge when maintaining a propped-up position.
Studies have shown that being overweight or obese, or having high basal metabolic rate (BMI) increases the risk of development of reflux disease. If you are already experiencing acid reflux after having meals, your increased weight can worsen your condition. It can also increase the chances of complications arising out of prolonged acid reflux. Reducing weight can help you manage your symptoms of acid reflux. Successful weight loss has been associated with fewer symptoms of acid reflux.10
It is important to follow a healthy lifestyle to be able to keep acid reflux at bay. Having a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking can help in relieving symptoms of acid reflux. A study conducted to find the correlation between lifestyle choices and gastroesophageal reflux disease in Albania concluded that smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity were strong predictors of acid reflux.11
These lifestyle measures can help in relieving symptoms of acid reflux after several hours of having meals. However, if you do not find relief, it is best to seek medical advice.
Acid reflux after several hours of having meals can occur due to various causes and conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, hence need to diagnosed and treated appropriately. Based on the health condition and severity, your doctor may prescribe medicines like H2 receptors and proton pump inhibitors to relieve your symptoms.
Some over-the-counter medicines like antacids are also popularly used to control acid reflux. However, if these medicines provide only temporary relief or if the symptoms persist, it is best to confirm the diagnosis and get appropriate treatment.
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