GERD: Something not to be thankful for at Thanksgiving

GERD: Something not to be thankful for at Thanksgiving

By Charles Bedard, MD
Gastroenterologist, Minor & James

It is that time of the year when we get together with family and friends at Thanksgiving to eat heaping platefulls of turkey with greasy gravy, green bean casserole and rich pumpkin pie with whipped cream. How about seconds! This can be a difficult scenario for someone with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with GERD may be bothered with very troublesome symptoms after ingesting large amounts of rich food.

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, as it is commonly called, is a condition where you are bothered by burning chest pain behind their breast bone. This commonly occurs after meals or during the night. You also may experience regurgitation of gastric contents up into the throat, causing coughing and difficulty breathing. It may be common for many people who usually do not have GERD problems to have some GERD symptoms following a large Thanksgiving meal. Other people, however, may have these symptoms on a much more frequent basis.

What causes GERD?

With the swallowing process, food travels down the esophagus with the help of peristalsis of the esophagus muscles. There is a valve at the bottom part of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter that opens to let food into the stomach, but then should close to prevent stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. If this valve is not working optimally, it can lead to symptoms of GERD.

While GERD is certainly uncomfortable, it can also lead to ulcers in the esophagus, changes in the esophagus inner lining called Barrett's esophagus that predisposes to esophageal cancer, as well as other symptoms including unexplained chronic cough, asthma and sore throats.

What should I do?

If you have GERD symptoms more than a few times per week you should consult your doctor for advice. GERD symptoms can often be controlled successfully with acid suppressing medication. It is also important to avoid fatty greasy foods, try to eat smaller meals, and avoid eating after 7 PM in the evening. It is not a good idea to eat a bedtime snack if you have GERD. For Thanksgiving dinner, go easy on second helpings.

Enjoy this very special time of year with your family and friends and I hope that you're not bothered by after dinner regret associated with GERD.

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