Acid Reflux: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Karon Warren on July 13, 2021
  • Young Hispanic female doctor or physician assistant smiling at male patient
    What Doctors Want You to Know About Acid Reflux and GERD
    While many people do suffer from acid reflux, acid reflux symptoms and causes of acid reflux may vary from person to person. As a result, acid reflux remedies also may differ from patient to patient as doctors search for treatments that will effectively treat the condition. We asked doctors who treat acid reflux what they think are the most important things patients should know about it. The one common factor that applies to everyone suffering from acid reflux: Treatment is essential to help prevent possible complications.
  • potato chips and other junk food at party
    1. “Skip spicy, fatty and processed foods.”
    Diet plays a key role in acid reflux for most patients. Eating spicy, fatty, greasy and processed foods can make acid reflux worse, says Dr. Erica Steele, DNM, ND, CFMP, BCND, founder of Holistic Family Practice in Virginia Beach, Va. Foods naturally high in acids, such as tomatoes, should be limited. Instead, eat a diet that contains garlic, bananas and ginger, which have proved helpful to those with acid reflux. “More fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar are very helpful,” Dr. Steele says.
  • plate of salad and dressing
    2. “When you eat also can affect acid reflux.”
    Although eating certain foods can trigger acid reflux, sometimes it’s not what you eat, but when you eat. “Irregular meals significantly affect the development of acid reflux,” says Dr. Tsvetelina Velikova, MD, PhD, clinical Immunologist and contributor to “For instance, people with busy schedules rarely have regular, quality meals. They tend to eat just a few times a day, and their meals are much bigger. This lifestyle is ideal for acid reflux: sitting all day and eating large meals that usually include fast food.”
  • young man checking for bad breath
    3. “Acid reflux symptoms vary from patient to patient.”
    While there are many common symptoms of acid reflux—heartburn, bad breath, and nausea—acid reflux affects people differently, and some symptoms can be quite surprising. “[Some] patients never experience heartburn, but may have atypical symptoms such as asthma, chronic cough, hoarseness, or chest pain due to persistent reflux,” says Dr. Kenneth Chang, professor and chief, Division of Gastroenterology, at the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine in Orange, Calif.
  • Man with chest pain
    4. “Despite chest pain, heartburn doesn’t affect the heart.”
    Because many acid reflux sufferers experience chest pain, they often confuse acid reflux with heart attack. However, heartburn associated with acid reflux has nothing to do with the heart and cannot cause any damage to it, Dr. Velikova says. “In the case of acid reflux, the sensation feels like burning in the chest area,” she says. “There is no pressure or shortness of breath [as with heart attack], and the symptoms don’t worsen with activity. Quite the contrary, the more passive you are, the more likely you will experience symptoms of the acid reflux.”
  • Serene man sleeping in bed in the morning
    5. “Changing how you sleep can help reduce acid reflux.”
    Lifestyle changes, such as altering your diet can go a long way in reducing acid reflux symptoms. However, changing how you sleep also can be beneficial. Dr. Chang recommends sleeping with your body elevated to minimize the acid from traveling up your esophagus. “It is also believed that sleeping on your left side may alleviate nighttime acid reflux,” he says. In addition, wait 2 to 3 hours after eating before going to sleep. This gives the stomach time to digest and partially empty its contents, which can reduce the amount of acid that could potentially travel up the esophagus during sleep.
  • woman about to take an effervescent antacid
    6. “Medication is not a long-term solution.”
    While there are many medications available to help treat acid reflux symptoms, they should be taken for a short period of time. “[Medications] can make acid reflux worse, and not treat the actual cause,” Dr. Steele says. “Common side effects include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting as a result of prolonged long-term use. Dependency also can become a problem as it only addresses the symptom. When the suppression of acid is removed, the symptom of low HCL remains."
  • female doctor comforting male patient
    7. “Acid reflux could lead to more serious conditions.”
    Even with treatment, those who suffer from chronic acid reflux could develop more serious conditions, such as cancer of the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus (a precancerous condition), and esophagus ulcerations. Therefore, Dr. Chang recommends regular monitoring for these conditions. “It is important for someone with chronic heartburn symptoms to have an endoscopy to monitor Barrett’s esophagus,” he says. “The endoscopist may also see a hiatal hernia or other anatomic abnormalities resulting in chronic acid reflux.”
Acid Reflux (GERD): 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know
  • Erica Steele-DNM - Healthgrades - Acid Reflux: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

    Naturopathic doctor and founder, Holistic Family Practice, Virginia Beach, Va.

  • Tsvetelina Velikova, MD, PhD - Healthgrades - Acid Reflux: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

    Contributor,, and gastrointestinal immunology specialist at University Hospital Lozenetz in Sofia, Bulgaria.

  • Kenneth Chang, MD - Healthgrades - Acid Reflux: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

    Professor and chief, Division of Gastroenterology, H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center, UC Irvine School of Medicine in Orange, Calif.

About The Author

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon is a successful long-time published journalist who covers health, finance, insurance, business, real estate, lifestyle and travel. Her work appears in numerous online outlets and print publications across the country. She also is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 13
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