Many patients who undergo weight loss surgery notice that they get heartburn much more often. Although heartburn by itself is usually nothing to worry about long-term, it could be a symptom of acid reflux.
Managing acid reflux after bariatric surgery is not easy, especially if it’s affecting your ability to eat. In this article, we go over what causes acid reflux after bariatric surgery and how to manage it.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is a term that was once used to describe gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). The symptoms are caused by stomach acid going back up into the esophagus during the process of digestion.
The most common symptom is painful and persistent heartburn, usually following a meal. Of course, just getting heartburn doesn’t mean you have GERD. Heartburn can be caused by simply eating a large, fatty meal or by eating particularly spicy or acidic food. Those with GERD have to be much more careful, though, as the repeated reflux of acid into the esophagus can wear down the esophageal lining. This is associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer and may require more serious medical intervention if not managed carefully.
Why Do People Get Acid Reflux After Bariatric Surgery?
GERD symptoms are caused by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter, which can in turn be caused by an increase in intra-abdominal pressure. Most bariatric procedures restrict the volume of the stomach, either by removing portions of it or by making a small pouch within the stomach for holding food. When the stomach is made smaller, it doesn’t take as much food to increase pressure within the stomach. This can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter and cause stomach acid to reflux up into the esophagus.
Not everyone gets GERD symptoms after bariatric surgery. But, for those who do, it can be a painful and highly annoying thing to deal with.
How Can I Manage My Acid Reflux After Bariatric Surgery?
GERD has no known cure, and it can be a very painful condition to deal with. Luckily, you do have options available to you for managing your GERD symptoms.
The number one thing you have to keep in mind is your diet. After bariatric surgery, you have to eat a much more restrictive diet than you used to before the surgery. It’s likely that eating the wrong foods may make your acid reflux situation worse.
Avoid eating fatty foods, spicy foods, highly acidic foods, and anything that’s fried. If you avoid these foods, your flare-ups will happen much less often. You also want to avoid drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks and minimize the amount of caffeinated beverages you have. These can also trigger flare-ups.
When it comes to your diet, you’re going to want to keep track of your acid reflux flare-ups while also keeping a food log. This way, you can figure out which foods or combinations of foods are causing you to experience symptoms. You also want to make sure that you understand the importance of post-op bariatric surgery care and follow-ups. Make sure to let your doctor know whether or not you’re experiencing GERD symptoms and let him or her know what you’re been eating.
The second thing to keep in mind is to do your best to reduce any other risk factors. Quitting smoking, avoiding tight-fitting clothing, and not eating too soon before laying down will help reduce your risk of acid reflux.
One positive note is that GERD symptoms tend to improve as you lose weight. If you’ve already lost most or all of the excess weight that you were expected to after surgery, and you’re still experiencing symptoms of GERD, you will want to continue your weight loss efforts until you reach a normal BMI (20-25).