All treatments are based on attempts to a) decrease the amount of acid that refluxes from the stomach back into the esophagus, or b) make the refluxed material less irritating to the lining of the esophagus.
What are the treatments for GERD?
In order to decrease the amount of gastric contents that reach the lower esophagus, certain simple guidelines should be followed:
Raise the Head of the Bed. The simplest method is to use a 4" x 4" piece of wood to which two jar caps have been nailed an appropriate distance apart to receive the legs or casters at the upper end of the bed. Failure to use the jar caps inevitably results in the patient being jolted from sleep as the upper end of the bed rolls off the 4" x 4".
Alternatively, one may use an under-mattress foam wedge to elevate the head about 6-10 inches. Pillows are not an effective alternative for elevating the head in preventing reflux.
Change Eating and Sleeping Habits. Avoid lying down for two hours after eating. Do not eat for at least two hours before bedtime. This decreases the amount of stomach acid available for reflux.
Avoid Tight Clothing. Reduce your weight if obesity contributes to the problem.
Change Your Diet. Avoid foods and medications that lower LES tone (fats and chocolate) and foods that may irritate the damaged lining of the esophagus (citrus juice, tomato juice, and probably pepper).
Curtail Habits That Contribute to GERD. Both smoking and the use of alcoholic beverages lower LES pressure, which contributes to acid reflux.
Medical Treatment of GERD
GERD has a physical cause, and frequently is not curtailed by these lifestyle factors alone. If you are using over-the-counter medications two or more times a week, or are still having symptoms on the prescription or other medicines you are taking, you need to see your doctor. If results are not forthcoming, medications may be used to neutralize acid, increase LES tone, or improve gastric emptying.
What are the medications often prescribed for GERD?
Prescription medications to treat GERD include drugs called H2 receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which help to reduce the stomach acid that tends to worsen symptoms, and work to promote healing, as well as promotility agents that aid in the clearance of acid from the esophagus.
H2 Receptor Antagonists
Since the mid 1970’s, acid suppression agents, known as H2 receptor antagonists or H2 blockers, have been used to treat GERD. H2 blockers improve the symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation and provide an excellent means of decreasing the flow of stomach acid to aid in the healing process of mild-to-moderate irritation of the esophagus, known as “esophagitis.” Symptoms are eliminated in up to 50% of patients with twice a day prescription dosage of the H2 blockers. Healing of esophagitis may require higher dosing. These agents maintain remission in about 25% of patients.
H2 blockers are generally less expensive than proton pump inhibitors and can provide adequate initial treatment or serve as a maintenance agent in GERD patients with mild symptoms. Current treatment guidelines also recognize the appropriateness and in some cases desirability of