Reflux and choking
Stomach acid going back into the oesophagus (reflux) is common after surgery for oesophageal cancer. This can cause heartburn, chest discomfort, or your stomach contents to flow up your oesophagus, particularly when lying flat or bending over. Taking medicines to reduce stomach acid generally helps.
After surgery or radiation therapy for oesophageal cancer, scar tissue may cause choking or swallowing problems while eating or drinking. See your doctor if this continues. After an oesophagectomy, the stomach can take longer to empty. You may feel full more quickly or be more likely to vomit or bring up food after eating.
How to reduce reflux and choking
- Limit spicy foods, fatty foods, fizzy drinks, alcohol and citrus fruits to prevent reflux.
- Take small sips of liquid to reduce coughing or choking.
- Chew foods well, eat slowly, and don’t talk while eating.
- To help food digest, sit up straight when eating and for at least 30 minutes after.
- Have your main meal earlier in the day and eat a small snack in the evening.
- After an oesophagectomy, stay upright for 2–4 hours after eating. Eat your evening meal more than four hours before going to bed.
- Avoid positions where your head is below your stomach (e.g. when bending over too far), particularly after eating.
- Keep your chest higher than your stomach when sleeping by lifting the head of your bed with blocks about the thickness of a house brick. The whole bed should be tilted slightly.
- Ask your doctor how much physical activity you can do, as this can sometimes cause reflux.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.