Preventing gastroesophageal reflux disease

Smoking and obesity contribute significantly to the onset of reflux. Stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are effective to prevent reflux. However there are few other proven ways to prevent reflux disease.

Changes to your lifestyle may be necessary:

  • Being overweight and obese are the main risk factors for reflux.

  • Avoid coffee, chocolate, fatty or spicy foods, soft drinks, citrus fruits (and their juices), tomatoes, milk and onions. This can help reduce reflux.

  • Avoid peppermint and green mint, which may open the oesophageal sphincter.

  • Avoid fatty and heavy meals.

  • Eat slowly: taking the time to chew food well avoids overloading the stomach.

  • Stop eating when you have eaten enough, and are satisfied.  Do not continue eating until your stomach is completely full.

  • Avoid lying down after eating (wait two to three hours).

  • Avoid eating in the three or four hours before bedtime.

  • For smokers… Quit smoking! Tobacco slows the healing of oesophagus lesions and interferes with the proper functioning of its sphincter.

  • Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol increases acid secretion in the stomach and worsens reflux. Above all, do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach.

  • Avoid tension and stress.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing and belts, as they can exert pressure on the abdomen that may be strong enough to cause the lower oesophageal sphincter to open, when it should remain closed.

  • Raise the head of the bed by at least 15 cm (6 inches). If necessary, place blocks of wood under the legs of the head of the bed or use a solid piece of foam under the portion of the mattress where the head rests (sleeping with a few extra pillows is not enough). This measure is effective in reducing nighttime pain, but can be uncomfortable and disrupt sleep in some people.

Some medications may cause reflux symptoms or irritate the oesophagus: acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), osteoporosis medications, antibiotics, menopause hormone therapy, some sleeping pills… Supplements (iron, potassium) and plants can also worsen symptoms. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.


Whether you are taking a drug for gastroesophageal reflux disease or not, it is essential to put in place the measures to prevent recurrences listed above and to change certain lifestyle habits. If this is not enough, people with regular reflux can get a simple and effective treatment to relieve their symptoms. However, as reflux is a chronic disease, it is sometimes necessary to continue taking medication in the long term.

Several medications can be given to reduce gastric acidity:

neutralise gastric acidity, to be taken in case of symptoms.

decrease the production of acid by the stomach. H2 antagonists are available over the counter and are usually sufficient to treat mild cases, in conjunction with the prevention advice described above. That said, it is not desirable to take H2 antagonists for long periods of time, as they could interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients.

These are the most effective medications to treat reflux, but they can cause side effects if not taken properly. It is therefore essential to follow your doctor’s recommendations.


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