Seven Questions About Acid Reflux Answered

It’s not necessarily what you are eating that is causing your acid reflux – it could very well be what you are doing after you eat.

For instance, does your job require you to bend over all the time? Are you wearing tight-fitting clothes? Do you eat late at night and then go straight to bed? Maybe the answer to your problems lies in your bed –- pun intended.

In 2006, Dr. Lauren Gerson, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Stanford University in California, published an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine that said raising the head of your bed was one of two ways to decrease acid reflux symptoms (losing weight was the other).

The study found that even dietary restrictions were not as helpful in combating acid reflux as raising the head of the bed. asked Gerson seven questions about acid reflux. Here's what she had to say:

1. Does posture affect acid reflux?

A: Most acid reflux occurs during the day, Gerson said, so when you lie down, some patients find their acid reflux becomes worse and actually lasts longer.

“There is evidence that if you keep your bed elevated on blocks or buy a foam wedge that keeps the head of the bed elevated while you are sleeping, it helps decrease acid reflux by a gravity effect,” Gerson said.

Another way posture affects acid reflux is if you tend to bend over a lot, that will increase the pressure in your abdomen, which could lead to an increase in acid reflux, Gerson added.

2. Does choosing the right pillow help?

A: “Unfortunately, the pillow doesn’t really matter,” Gerson said. “The bed needs to be elevated a good eight to 10 inches.”

3. Should people with acid reflux wear loose-fitting clothes?

A: Having increased pressure in the abdomen can make acid reflux worse, especially in overweight people.

“Having loose-fitting clothes might help decrease the pressure in the abdomen,” Gerson said. “That might be one factor why they are having heartburn.”

4. Many people on the run eat standing up. Is this bad? Should people sit to eat?

A: “I don’t think sitting or standing makes a difference.”

5. Are there any exercises that can reduce acid reflux symptoms?

A: "I guess we can say any type of exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercises, might decrease reflux. It helps move things through the system.”

And exercising can help you lose weight, which is especially important for obese people, who tend to have acid reflux.

6. How does hiatal hernia affect acid reflux?

A: A hiatal hernia forms when part of the stomach pushes through the opening of the diaphragm where the food pipe meets the stomach. It can be small (1 or 2 centimeters), or large (greater than 3 or 4 centimeters).

Forty percent or more of Americans have hiatal hernias and they are not thought to be a contributing factor to acid reflux unless the hernia is very large, Gerson said.

“If they are large, they can trap the acid in the pouch and then acid is more likely to come up into the swallowing pipe,” she added. “It may be that if you have a large hernia, and you bend over, then the acid is more likely to come up.”

7. Is it OK to eat before going to bed or taking a nap?

A: Lying down after eating, whether it be for a nap or going to sleep for the night, is never a good idea, Gerson said.

“Always wait at least three hours after a meal before lying down,” she said. “It’s the gravity effect. Lying down makes acid reflux worse.”