• Tiana Sexton

Gastrointestinal Spotlight: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Manage Acid Reflux

Let’s face it: acid reflux is the worst. It may feel like no matter what foods you avoid or OTC treatments you take, acid reflux is an inevitable part of your life. When I opened my practice, it was with the focus of helping people in Fort Collins and Loveland who struggle with gastrointestinal disorders create customizable plans that may improve their lives. This article will help you spot the symptoms of this gastrointestinal symptom, understand some of the root causes of acid reflux, and learn the ways that you can manage your acid reflux.

What Is Acid Reflux?

When you eat, your stomach uses acid to break down the food. Normally, a ring of muscles (the esophageal sphincter) prevents the acidic contents of your stomach from traveling up into your esophagus. Acid reflux is a condition where the contents of your stomach acid go back up your esophagus.

During a reflux episode, these muscles relax and the acidic contents travel up to your sensitive esophagus. The esophagus is not equipped to handle harsh acids in the stomach, so a burning sensation and heartburn often are side effects that accompany the acid reflux episode.

Common Symptoms of Acid Reflux [1]:

  • A burning sensation in your chest after eating

  • Chest pain

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid

  • A ‘lump’ in your throat

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux, or GERD?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is when a person experiences chronic acid reflux. Gerd is incredibly common: about 1 in 5 Americans have GERD [2]. While GERD is generally treatable, you can develop serious complications like esophageal cancer if it is left untreated [3].

If you experience acid reflux at least twice a week, it’s important you visit your physician to get a formal diagnosis before scheduling a consultation with an RDN. Contact me if you live in Fort Collins or Loveland and would like a referral to a doctor who specializes in gastrointestinal issues.

What Causes GERD and Acid Reflux?

There are a few causes for acid reflux and GERD, including:

  • Unequal pressure between your stomach and esophagus. When you overfill your stomach, the unequal pressure causes the ring of muscles (esophageal sphincter) to open, causing acid to flow into the esophagus. Working with a practitioner can help you address and prevent possible causes of stomach overfill.

  • Low stomach acid is a common condition. Age, stress, and vitamin deficiency are all common causes. When you work with me at my Loveland or Fort Collins practice, I can help you identify and treat the underlying dietary issues that may be causing low stomach acid.

  • Hiatal hernias. A hiatal hernia happens when your stomach and lower esophagus slide up and towards your chest. While you might not be able to feel the hiatal hernia itself, it can create acid reflux. The good news is that acid reflux may improve through dietary and lifestyle changes[4]. Creating an action plan with small, sustainable steps may help improve symptoms of hiatal hernias in your GI.

  • Trigger foods. Spicy foods, high-fat foods, caffeine, peppermint and spearmint, citrus fruits, chocolate, and alcohol may trigger an episode. Fruits and vegetables are crucial to a healthy diet, but some types of highly acidic produce may trigger acid reflux. By working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, you can get a nutrition plan that gets you all the nutrients and vitamins you need.

  • Certain beverages. Coffee, caffeinated tea, soda, energy drinks, and alcohol are often tied to acid reflux. Creating a customized nutrition plan can help you find whole-food sources that give you the energy you need to get throughout the day, without the threat of a flare-up.

How Can I Manage Acid Reflux?

Diet and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms, but success varies from person to person. Because lifestyles and diets are so different from person to person, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. When I work with clients in Loveland and Fort Collins to achieve their nutritional goals, I use science-backed strategies to create a collaborative, customizable plan for you.

Your plan will help you to:

  • Identify areas of focus:

  • Monitoring your experience with symptom tracking and food diaries.

  • Discover triggers for your acid reflux

  • Examine lifestyle choices that may increase your symptoms

  • Learn the reasoning behind the changes.

  • You may have heard about avoiding spicy foods or not drinking liquid during a meal, but learning why can create a world of difference when it comes to remembering and implementing changes.

  • Create a sustainable management plan that identifies triggers and alternatives

  • We’ll work together to create a personalized list of food, drinks, and lifestyle choices to avoid. (For example, did you know that sleeping on your right side at night may worsen symptoms? Sometimes, changes can be simple!)

  • Next, we’ll find sustainable alternatives to these triggers that will leave you feeling great.

Diet and Lifestyle Strategies to Help Manage Acid Reflux:

  • Avoid large meals

  • Identify food triggers by keeping a food and symptom journal

  • Wait at least three hours between your last meal of the day and your bedtime

  • Avoid tight clothing

  • Raise the head of your bed 4-8 inches

  • Try to manage your stress levels

Get Help Managing Your Acid Reflux in Four Easy Steps:

Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders can help you manage and even reduce symptoms of acid reflux. If you are interested in learning more about what it can look like to work with a professional to manage symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders like acid reflux, give me a call today.

  1. Schedule your free call. This will be a time to discuss your goals, what led you to seek nutritional advice, and any gastrointestinal issues you’d like help with.

  2. Fill Out Your Personalized Assessment Form. When it comes to making lifelong changes, the most important aspect is taking the whole picture into consideration. This assessment will focus on diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress levels, activity levels, and other factors that are necessary to figure out a personalized nutrition plan.

  3. Initial Consultation. During your first consultation, either at the Loveland office or via telehealth, we will go over all aspects of your life that are contributing to your overall health: your diet, your medical history, your lifestyle, and the symptoms you might be experiencing. From there, we will form a custom plan and you will set goals that will support your desired health outcomes.

  4. Follow-Up Visits. You’ll review your progress, address any questions, and address challenges that arose since your last session. These sessions will provide you with the support and accountability necessary to make lasting changes that will lead to symptom relief. Triggers are especially important to focus on when it comes to treating gastrointestinal disorders, so I can help you identify triggers and come up with a customizable plan.

Learn more about Tiana Sexton + Personalized Nutrition Counseling in Loveland and Fort Collins






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