Will I Get Acid Reflux After Bariatric Surgery?



Are you in the process of getting bariatric surgery? Are you worried about developing acid reflux after surgery? Many patients who have undergone bariatric surgery experience Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux. Acid reflux is much more common after gastric sleeve than gastric bypass. Studies have shown that as many as 30 percent of patients who undergo gastric sleeve experience GERD for the first time. On the other hand, patients who undergo gastric bypass may experience improvement in their GERD symptoms. 

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease? 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, is a condition that develops when stomach acid flows back into the tube (esophagus) that connects your mouth to your stomach. This acid can irritate the lining of your esophagus. Although bariatric surgery can help to reduce GERD symptoms, it can occasionally cause them to develop. 

How Does Bariatric Surgery Cause GERD? 

Gastric sleeve and other weight loss surgeries may alter how food travels through the intestines or the shape of a person’s stomach. After bariatric surgery, the stomach is much smaller. Therefore, the pressure within the stomach is much higher. 

This pressure can damage the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES prevents substances from reentering the esophagus. If the lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t work properly, it may cause acid from food to flow back up into the esophagus causing acid reflux and GERD symptoms. 

If you do have GERD after bariatric surgery, there are things that you can do to reduce the risk of developing acid reflux. 

How Can I Prevent Acid Reflux After Bariatric Surgery?

Most people are able to manage the discomfort of GERD with medications and lifestyle changes

Eat Small, Frequent Meals 

Try to avoid eating too much at once. Frequent, small meals reduce the amount of food in the stomach. This reduces the pressure within the stomach, consequently lowering the risk of acid reflux. Therefore, eat five or six small meals throughout the day rather than three large ones. 

Don’t Eat Late at Night 

Heartburn is more likely to occur when you are lying. down. Therefore, don’t go to bed on a full stomach. You’ll want to avoid laying down for at least two or more hours after a meal. This will give food time to digest and prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. 

Don’t Overeat 

Most bariatric procedures modify your stomach so that it is much smaller. When you overeat, it causes more pressure to build up in your stomach. This can damage the lower esophageal sphincter and cause acid to travel back into the esophagus. 

Eat Slowly

Studies have shown that eating slowly can reduce the risk of acid reflux. Therefore, don’t rush your meals. Put your fork down between bites and take time to eat. Make sure you chew your food very well. 

Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks 

Some foods and drinks can cause acid reflux or make it worse. 

  • Fatty or fried foods 
  • Spicy foods 
  • Chocolate 
  • Tomato based sauces  
  • Processed snacks 
  • Pizza 
  • Chili powder 
  • Alcohol 
  • Caffeine 
  • Acidic beverages – Soda and other caffeinated beverages can make acid reflux worse. 

Also, avoid citrus juices or fruits. 

Eat Foods That Help Reduce Acid Reflux

Some foods can make acid reflux worse, but others can help symptoms by reducing acid backup into the esophagus.

  • Vegetables, including leafy greens, asparagus, cucumbers, green beans, or broccoli 
  • Lean meats and seafood
  • High-fiber foods, such as brown rice or bran flakes 
  • Root vegetables, like beets and carrots
  • Non citrus fruits, such as pears and apples 
  • Healthy fats (in moderation) like avocados and olive oil   
  • Foods that have a higher PH, including bananas, cauliflower, and melons 

Move After Meals 

After eating, wait at least two hours before sitting down on the couch. Moving is good for digestion, as well as your physical and mental health. Use this time to stay active. Go for a walk around the neighborhood. 

Sleep on an Incline 

To ease nighttime acid reflux, try sleeping on a slight incline. Most studies have found that 6-8 inches is ideal to prevent acid reflux. A wedge-shaped pillow can be very helpful when it comes to sleeping on an incline. 

Stop Smoking 

The nicotine in cigarettes can weaken your lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle controls the opening between your stomach and esophagus. When this muscle works properly, it keeps acid and stomach contents from going back up. 

Keep a Diary 

Most people with acid reflux find that specific foods or behaviors can make symptoms worse. But problem foods can vary from person to person. Therefore, keep a heartburn log. That way, you can record things, such as certain foods, and behaviors that trigger your acid reflux when it occurs. 

Ask Your Doctor About Medications 

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to treat GERD, you should ask your doctor about medications. There are a  number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine antagonists (H2 receptor blockers) are the two types of medications that can bring relief. PPIs are more potent than H2 blockers. 

The bottom line

Bariatric surgery may increase your risk of acid reflux. That said, not everyone who has bariatric surgery gets GERD after the procedure. In some causes, bariatric surgery can actually help GERD. 

If you’re considering bariatric surgery, it’s important to talk with your doctor about your current GERD symptoms. If you currently have acid reflux, your doctor may recommend gastric bypass instead of gastric sleeve since gastric bypass usually helps with GERD. 

Learn more today by contacting Renew Bariatrics helpful staff and see which procedure is right for you.