What Triggers Acid Reflux and What Can You Do About It?

What Triggers Acid Reflux and What Can You Do About It?

Have you ever noticed that you get heartburn after eating or drinking certain foods, or eating at particular times of the day? You might be triggering acid reflux, causing that burning pain in your chest area.

In the medical world, a trigger is something in the environment, a behavior or an action that causes a symptom. For acid reflux sufferers, it’s important to know what might be triggering heartburn and how to handle it so that you can sleep better and carry on with your regular daily routine. For some, relief might also require lifestyle adjustments or even potentially a medical procedure to help with chronic acid reflux, called GERD.

How Do You Know If You Have Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a condition that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close all the way or opens too often. This causes stomach acid to move up the stomach into the esophagus, causing a pain or discomfort in the chest we refer to as heartburn. Some people get heartburn only occasionally, but for those who suffer it more often – two to three times per week or more – this could be a sign that you have chronic acid reflux, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Learn more about acid reflux and GERD.

What Are Common Acid Reflux Triggers?

Most people know that food is a common trigger for heartburn. The specific foods that cause heartburn vary from person to person. You’ll have to do a little bit of investigative work to find out what’s likely causing your own heartburn.

Foods and Drinks That May Cause Acid Reflux

Certain foods are known to cause acid-reflux symptoms, including:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Fatty or fried foods including fast food
  • Garlic and onions
  • Tomato-based foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Mint
  • Pizza
  • Chili powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne)
  • Potato chips and other processed snacks
  • Cheese
  • Fatty meats like bacon and sausage

Drinks that cause acid reflux symptoms include:

  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcoholic beverages (You may find that some types of alcohol cause more problems than other types.)
  • Coffee (regular or decaffeinated)
  • Tea (regular or decaffeinated)

Track Your Food and Beverage Reflux Triggers

Sometimes foods cause acid reflux only at certain times of the day. You can find out which foods are affecting you and at what times by keeping a log of what you eat and when you experience symptoms. You might also note what you did after eating to see if there is a trend. Tracking this information can help you determine which triggers are most common for you.

Also note that there are some other symptoms of acid reflux that may be affecting you and you should note in your log.

  • Large meals can trigger heartburn as well as a dry cough.
  • Lying down or going to bed shortly after eating can cause reflux.
  • Bending over at the waist after a meal.

For those with occasional heartburn it isn’t too hard to work around the triggers. But for those who have regular acid reflux, you should track these triggers and talk to your doctor.

Medications that May Cause Acid Reflux

Some medications cause acid reflux, including some muscle relaxers, as well as aspirin and ibuprofen. If a medication you take is triggering heartburn, explore alternative medicines. For example, if you suffer from pain or inflammation and take ibuprofen as a result, you may benefit from taking acetaminophen instead.

Blood pressure medicines can also be triggers. People who have high blood pressure should take the medicine recommended by their doctor. However, many doctors will adjust the type of medication they prescribe if they are aware their patient suffers from acid reflux. In other words, keep your doctor in the loop if you get heartburn.

What Puts You at Risk for Acid Reflux?

While anyone can experience heartburn sometimes, consistent acid reflux is more likely amongst those who have a medical condition that doesn’t allow the valve between their stomach and their esophagus to close correctly. This can be made worse by certain risk factors.


Many pregnant women experience acid reflux; it's just one of the many bodily changes that can be frustrating for expecting mothers. Avoiding triggers like large meals can help, as can avoiding consumption of foods that also trigger acid reflux. For many women, acid reflux will go away after pregnancy is over.


Obesity is known to be a trigger for acid reflux. For some people, the way to avoid acid reflux is to lose weight in a way that is healthy and safe. If you would like to lose weight, work with your physician or a nutritionist to identify a diet that is safe and appropriate for your lifestyle or examine the possibility of weight loss surgery.


Smoking can cause a host of problems for a person, and acid reflux is one of them. This happens because nicotine relaxes the sphincter in the stomach, thus allowing stomach acid into the esophagus. This often stops when the person stops smoking.

What You Can Do to Improve Acid Reflux?

The right acid reflux treatments for you depend on how severe your condition is, its cause, and other factors. Your doctor can help you identify the best ways to improve acid reflux.

Eat the Right Foods

Even if you eat a healthy diet you might find that some of those healthy foods are giving you heartburn. Here are some of the best foods you can eat to prevent acid reflux:

  • Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and other forms of root vegetables.
  • Oatmeal, brown rice, couscous and other types of whole grains.
  • Green beans, asparagus, broccoli and other types of green vegetables.

Foods that are especially watery can also be useful for preventing acid reflux.

  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Herbal tea
  • Broth-based soups

Foods that are alkaline (not acidic) are also useful for preventing acid reflux. Some common examples of alkaline foods include:

  • Melons
  • Bananas
  • Fennel
  • Cauliflower
  • Nuts

You can try these foods for yourself to see how they work for you.

Seek Treatment from a Physician for GERD

Using medication to relieve heartburn isn’t always a good long-term solution. GERD sufferers may need help from a doctor for a medical procedure that will allow the valve between the stomach and esophagus to open and close correctly. Here are three common procedures performed by Dr. Howard to relieve GERD:

  • Laparoscopic Nissen Fundoplication. This procedure involves wrapping the stomach around the esophagus to restore the function of the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • TIF. This procedure restores the integrity of the gastroesophageal valve with a 270-degree esophagogastric wrap.
  • LINX. LINX is a small surgically implanted ring that prevents reflux by increasing the barrier function of the esophageal sphincter.

Surgery is not necessary for everyone. Try tracking your food and beverage intake and avoid triggers for a few weeks to see if you can improve things on your own. But, if you suffer from GERD and would like to explore your options, contact Dr. Howard for a consultation. Bring your log of foods and activities with you and learn more about whether acid reflux surgery is right for you.

Categories: Acid Reflux & GERD

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