As women are passing out of their reproductive years, it is not uncommon for digestive problems, such as acid reflux and GERD, to surface, adding to the laundry list of menopause symptoms they may already be experiencing. However, worry not as useful information is just a scroll away.
Continue reading to learn all about menopause and acid reflux as well as GERD, including more about both conditions, symptoms, management, treatment, and much more.
About Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing a taste of thrown up food or sour liquid.
Although acid reflux is commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), GERD is a long-lasting and more severe form of reflux whose most common symptom is recurrent heartburn.
While it is true that many women will experience acid reflux occasionally, for the diagnosis of GERD to be made, acid reflux has to occur at least once a week.
What's the Connection to Menopause?
Menopause is a time marked by drastic hormonal fluctuations as the ovaries' reproductive functions come to an end, and a woman approaches her infertile years.
Both acid reflux and GERD occur when the esophageal sphincter inappropriately weakens or relaxes, and the risk of this happening increases during periods of reproductive significance, such as menopause.
Perimenopause Acid Reflux Symptoms
Some of the most common menopause GERD symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain
- Sensation of a lump in the throat
If the acid reflux flare-ups during menopause are occurring at night, it is not uncommon for women to also experience:
- New or worsening asthma
- Disrupted sleep
- Chronic cough
How to Manage Mild Menopause Acid Reflux
For women who suffer from occasional acid reflux, lifestyle changes do great wonders in helping. Some measures they can take to find relief include:
Eating smaller meals with less fat. Consuming small, frequent meals decreases stomach pressure. Also, since fat takes the longest time to leave the stomach, a good way to avoid acid reflux flare-ups during menopause is to avoid overconsumption of butter, margarine, oils, and full-fat dairy products, among others.
Avoiding triggers. Foods and beverages that can induce menopause reflux attacks, thus should be avoided, include onions, garlic, chocolate, citrus fruits, caffeinated drinks, alcohol (particularly red wine), tomatoes, fried foods, mints, carbonated beverages, and more. Women may re-introduce trigger foods into their diets after two weeks to determine tolerance.
Adjusting bedtime habits. Women suffering from perimenopause acid reflux flare-ups at night should avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime - as it can take the stomach up to five hours to fully empty a meal - and raise the head of the bed six to eight inches using blocks.
Having proper post-meal posture. Women suffering from acid reflux or menopause GERD should also avoid bending over or reaching below the waist after meals for at least 45 minutes. Losing weight. Having excess weight, similar to consuming large amounts of food at one sitting, increases abdominal pressure, making acid backflow more likely. Strive for regular exercise of 30 minutes a day, five days a week as a starting point toward a healthy weight.
Changing clothing choices. It would also be wise that women who suffer from the regurgitation of stomach acid avoid wearing clothing that is too tight in the stomach area.
However, for women who suffer from more severe acid reflux, or GERD, other options mentioned below may be recommended on top of these management techniques.
How to Treat GERD
Natural and effective treatments for digestive problems, such as GERD, during menopause focus on many of the aforementioned lifestyle changes in addition to alternative medicine.
Two principal options that can help menopausal women with acid reflux and GERD by resolving the hormonal imbalance include:
Phytoestrogenic herbal supplements. Phytoestrogenic herbal supplements contain potent concentrations of phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogens that act as endogenous estrogen in the body. However, because they introduce outside hormones into the body, they are only appropriate for short-term use under the close supervision of a certified herbalist.
Hormone-regulating supplements. On the other hand, hormone-regulating supplements encourage endocrine glands to produce more of their own hormones, naturally resolving a hormonal imbalance at fault for acid reflux and other menopause symptoms. They are safer for long-term use as they do not possess exogenous hormones, yet nourish your body instead.
If women continue to suffer from GERD despite balancing hormones, their doctors may recommend several conventional treatments, like medications or surgery.
Over-the-counter medication options include antacids to neutralize stomach acid; drugs to reduce acid production; or medications that block acid production and heal the esophagus. If these don't work, prescription medications of H-2 receptor blockers or proton pump inhibitors may be tried.
In the most severe of cases, surgeries like fundoplication - where the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter - or a LINX device, which is a ring of magnetic beads wrapped between the stomach and esophagus, will be used.
While acid reflux during menopause can certainly cause many middle-aged women continued distress, most will find that combining lifestyle changes with alternative medicine will bring them the ultimate relief they've been searching for. Remember that each woman's body will respond differently to measures taken. So, keep a journal to record what works and what doesn't for your specific situation. Nevertheless, with a little initiative, acid reflux can soon be a thing of the past!
- Cleveland Clinic. (2018). Lifestyle Guidelines for the Treatment of GERD. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15530-lifestyle-guidelines-for-the-treatment-of-gerd
- Mayo Clinic. (2018). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Symptoms & causes | Diagnosis & treatment | Acid reflux and GERD: The same thing? Retrieved August 20, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940 | https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361959 | https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/expert-answers/heartburn-gerd/faq-20057894
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (n.d.). Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults
- NIH News in Health. (n.d.). Reflux or GERD? When Heartburn Spells Trouble. Retrieved August 21, 2019, from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2011/04/reflux-or-gerd
- Singh, M. et al. (2013). Weight Loss Can Lead to Resolution of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms: A Prospective Intervention Trial. Obesity (Silver Spring), 21(2). doi: 10.1002/oby.20279