Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive condition characterized by the reverse flow of the acid from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Reflux is the backflow of the stomach acids into the esophagus owing to the weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
If you are suffering from GERD, you can mitigate it to a good extent by maintaining a routine of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet. Treatment for GERD include drugs or in unresolved cases , may need to undergo surgery.
What is GERD?
GERD is primarily caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscles that line between the stomach and the esophagus. The food travels from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. LES’s ring of muscles seals the stomach and prevents the food bolus from traveling back into the esophagus from the stomach. Due to various conditions, the LES weakens and allows gastric juices and food to travel back, causing heartburn. Most of the individuals experience acid reflux from time to time. And, GERD is mild acid reflux that happens at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that happens at least once a week.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
Many of the common symptoms that you would notice are:-
- Heartburn or a burning sensation in the chest
- A feeling of a lump in the throat
- Taste of sour liquid or regurgitated food at the back of the mouth
- Chest pain
You may also experience reflux during the night, which would include other symptoms such as:-
- Disrupted sleep
- Chronic cough
When to see a doctor?
Seek medical care immediately if you expereince chest pain, especially if you also have arm pain, jaw pain or shortness breath. These could be symptoms of a heart attack
You should also seek medical assistance if you observe the following:
- Moderate to severe GERD symptoms with increased frequency of reflux
- Ingestion of over the counter medications for heartburn more than twice a week
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What are the causes of GERD?
As mentioned before, GERD is caused primarily by acid reflux. The reflux occurs because of the weakened LES muscles .These are a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) that relax to allow food and liquid to flow into your stomach. Then the sphincter closes again.
When the sphincter muscles are weakened , return of the food and gastric juices from the stomach to the esophagus and into the mouth leads to acid reflux. Both the reflux of the food and the acidic nature of the gastric juices cause heartburn.
What are the risk factors of GERD?
Various risk factors lead to GERD. These are:-
- Hiatal Hernia
- Scleroderma or any other disorder of the connective tissues
- Delayed emptying of the stomach
Certain other factors worsen GERD. These are:-
- Alcohol and caffeine
- Certain drugs such as aspirin
- Fried and fatty foods
- Ingestion of heavy meals at night
What are the complications of GERD?
Heartburn and acid reflux causes inflammation in the esophagus. Chronic inflammation can cause many complications, not just of the esophagus but also of the digestive system. Some of these complications are:-
- Esophageal Narrowing – Stomach acids damage the lower esophagus and generate scar tissue. This further constricts the pathway for the food bolus to travel into the stomach. This causes pain and difficulty in swallowing.
- Esophagus Ulcers – Stomach acids can also damage the esophagus’s inner lining, causing open sores and ulcers. These stay as open sores and can bleed, cause pain, and make it difficult to swallow food.
- Precancerous Changes – Chronic inflammation, open sores, ulcers, and bleeding can also be followed by cancerous changes in the esophagus.
What are the treatment options of GERD?
Getting rid of GERD fast involves diagnosing and treating it early. This is followed by making permanent healthy lifestyle changes and the introduction of a balanced diet. Treatment modalities that your doctor would prescribe to you are:
- Over-The-Counter Drugs
- Antacids to neutralize the stomach acids
- H-2-receptor blockers to decrease the acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors to healing the esophagus by blocking the acid production
- Prescription Drugs
These are stronger medications to treat GERD. Some of these are:
- Prescription-strength H-2-receptor blockers
- Prescription-strength proton pump inhibitors
- Drugs to strengthen the esophageal sphincter muscles
Some of the methods adopted for surgery to treat GERD are
- Transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF)
- LINX device
Following a healthy lifestyle can help avoid and reduce GERD to a large extent and even rid you of it. Still, persistent symptoms would require an appointment with the doctor and taking certain medications such as H-2-receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and other medications.
Measures to take for preventing GERD
GERD can be prevented to a large extent by a healthy lifestyle. Various factors that can be concentrated upon are:
- Avoiding Obesity – Obesity and overweight cause GERD as the excess weight pressurizes the abdomen causing acid reflux.
- Stop Smoking – If you are a smoker, it is advisable to quit smoking as this weakens the LES, increasing the chances of acid reflux and worsening it quickly as well.
- Elevating the Head while Lying Down – place cement blocks or wood under the feet of your bed so that the head end is raised by 6 to 9 inches. If you cannot elevate the bed, you can insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate the body from the waist up.
- Napping after Meals – You should avoid lying down immediately after meals and wait for 2-3 hours before napping.
- Eating Food Slowly – It is recommended to eat food slowly and chew the food properly.
- Avoiding Foods that Trigger Reflux – You should avoid certain foods such a tomato sauce, alcohol, coffee, fried foods, garlic, caffeine, and onions.
- Tight Fitting Clothes – To avoid pressure on the abdomen, it is recommended to avoid tight-fitting clothes, especially around the waist.
Mild GERD cases can be treated at home and can be gotten rid of, while moderate to severe cases must immediately refer to the doctor to avoid future complications. It is also essential to keep an eye out for various symptoms. A balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle, and a normal weight can go a long way in preventing many diseases.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- How is GERD diagnosed?
GERD is diagnosed using the following tests and techniques by your doctor. Your doctor can advise you to take either one or all of these to confirm the condition. These tests are an upper endoscopy, Ambulatory acid (pH) probe test, esophageal manometry, and X-Ray of the upper digestive system. These tests not only help confirm the condition but would also be able to assess the severity of the same.
- How does smoking affect GERD?
Smoking has been shown to worsen GERD in patients as it lowers the LES muscle’s action. The weakened muscles accelerate the acid reflux and increase the frequency of heartburn, thereby aggravating the condition.
- What is the correlation between Hiatal Hernia and GERD?
The diaphragm separates the chest and the abdomen. It also functions to support the esophagus. Hiatal Hernia is a condition when the stomach moves into the chest through the diaphragm. This weakens the support of the esophagus, triggering GERD. This is also why many patients suffering from Hiatal Hernia frequently complain of heartburn.
- Can one ignore the symptoms ?
It is advisable not to ignore heartburn and chest pain as they could progress into various future complications. On the contrary, observing the frequency of the heartburn/acid reflux and the foods that trigger it can greatly help your case.
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