Gastrointestinal reflux disease affects millions of Americans daily, but luckily there are a variety of treatments available to help alleviate the illness or fix its underlying cause. These treatments include medications which can inhibit the production of stomach acid or neutralize it, and surgical options to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter, the weakness of which is the underlying cause of GERD.
In addition to the medication and surgery, there are also a variety of lifestyle changes that are encouraged for GERD sufferers, such as eliminating alcohol and cigarette intake, cutting back on acidic foods and weight loss.
Surgery and medication aren't options for everyone, as many people have pre-existing medical conditions or other health issues that make them poor candidates for surgery, and others may not be able to take the medications prescribed for GERD. Also, behavioral and dietary changes and alternative medicine treatments may only be able to accomplish limited results. Thankfully, there's another ally that GERD sufferers can enlist in their struggle with this illness.
Positional therapy is an approach being tried with increased frequency to help folks with GERD alleviate their symptoms. While the concepts behind positional therapy sound very simple, the approach has been shown to achieve results.
The stomach acid and other fluids your body is refluxing into your lower esophageal sphincter has a tough time flowing upward. By positioning your body correctly, especially during sleep, you can help alleviate the heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms of GERD. Some of the worst symptoms of GERD strike at night, making sleep uncomfortable, if not impossible. A good night's sleep is important for mental acuity and emotional well-being, so anything you can do to alleviate these painful symptoms will be a great help to your overall well-being.
Also, medical evidence has shown that nighttime acid reflux can actually be more damaging to your esophagus than daytime reflux because when you're reclined at night the acid that you reflux will stay in your esophagus for a longer period of time. In fact, a recent American Gastronenterological Association study says that people who experienced nighttime acid reflux were eleven times more likely to eventually develop esophageal cancer than those who did not experience nighttime acid reflux.
Also, by keeping as little stomach acid from refluxing into your esophagus as possible, you'll help to prevent GERD related complications such as dysphagia, esophagitis and Barrett's esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer, a form of cancer with a very high mortality rate.
To help prevent the reflux of acid into the esophagus, maintaining an upright position while you sleep can put gravity on your side. One way to do this is to sleep with a specialized wedge pillow. These pillows act to keep your esophagus raised above your stomach, thus controlling acid reflux. For folks with mild to moderate cases of GERD this works well and can prevent symptoms from occuring as they sleep. Wedge pillows are sold by a number of providers, and are used to treat a number of problems such as discomfort during pregnancy and allergies. The best elevation for GERD is a pillow that elevates your head by about six to eight inches.
Another suggested positional therapy is to sleep on your left side. Sleeping in this position places your esophagus higher than your stomach, thus making it more difficult for acid to reflux up into your esophagus. Sleeping on your right side will make it more likely that acid can reflux into your esophagus, so try to avoid this.
Also, after eating a meal, you'll want to avoid lying down for at least three hours. This gives your food time to digest and reduces the opportunity for stomach acid to reflux.
There are various other methods of positional therapy that do not involve sleep. For example, when going to lift something, squat to lift it instead of bending over. This keeps your esophagus above your stomach, and thus reduces the chance of reflux. Also, when it's time to eat, try to sit in an upright position. Don't slouch, as this creates a better opportunity for acid to reflux into your esophagus.
While positional therapy isn't likely to solve all of your problems with GERD, it is one more arrow in your quiver. Using it with a combination of other treatments may help relieve your GERD symptoms and make your life more enjoyable and productive.