10 Things You Should Know About Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
by Sarah Tremain
For most people once food enters the mouth, is chewed up and swallowed, as far as they know it’s history. However, that’s not the story for everyone. Individuals that experience a backup of stomach acid into the esophagus, heartburn, more than
twice a week are typically diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid flows back into your food pipe. The backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD signs and symptoms (1).
Those inflicted with gastroesophageal reflex disease can expect a reasonable amount of discomfort and pain if the condition is left untreated. Fortunately, many options are available to prevent GERD from getting in the way of living a perfectly normal life. Here are ten things you should know about gastroesophageal reflux disease:
1. It is a common digestive disorder that can affect all ages.
2. Not everyone that experiences heartburn has GERD. The condition is a chronic digestive disease diagnosed by a physician when heartburn occurs at least twice a week, every week (2).
3. Signs and symptoms include a burning sensation in chest (heartburn), sour taste in mouth, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, sore throat, indigestion / regurgitation of food (acid reflux) and sensation of a lump in the throat (1).
4. The disease is caused by a faulty cardiac (esophageal) sphincter. The cardiac sphincter allows food and liquid to flow from the esophagus into the stomach. Due to abnormal relaxation or weakness of the sphincter stomach acid is able to flow back into the esophagus and cause frequent heartburn (1).
5. Although biology plays a big part in determining whether an individual will develop the disease or not there are also other conditions that may increase the risk of GERD including obesity, hiatal hernia, pregnancy, smoking, asthma and diabetes (1).
6. Complaints of frequent heartburn may be enough for a physician to diagnose GERD. If not, other examinations including an x-ray of the upper digestive system, an endoscopy and/ or a esophageal pH level test may be performed (1).
7. Preventative measures include cessation of smoking, monitoring of trigger foods/ drinks, avoiding tight-fitting clothing, losing weight, eating smaller meals, avoiding laying down 2-3 hours after eating and elevating head of bed a few inches (3).
8. Due to the prevalence of the disease many forms of medication exist to aid in prevention, treat symptoms and even help repair the damage of the esophagus. Over-the-counter treatments such as Rolaids and Tums (antacids) aid in
relieving heartburn and other GERD symptoms after an occurrence has already begun. Other OTC options like Pepcid AC and Zantac (H2 blockers) decrease acid production and for some, provide short-term relief of GERD symptoms. Even more effective for most affected by GERD, are medicines such as Prilosec and Prevacid (proton pump inhibitors) which help to relieve long-term symptoms and even help in healing the esophageal lining (3).
9. Over-the-counter medicines do not work for everyone that has GERD. In some cases, when medicine
and lifestyle changes do not help manage symptoms surgery is necessary. Surgery may also be a reasonable alternative to a lifetime of drugs and discomfort.
10. Although common, it is a serious disease. Left untreated, chronic GERD can cause dangerous complications including ulcers, narrowing of the esophagus – making it difficult to swallow and even esophageal cancer. Individuals with GERD should take preventative measures and be regularly assessed by a physician (3).
1. Mayo Clinic Staff. GERD. 23 May 2009. Mayo Clinic. 10 April 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gerd/DS00967.
2. Mohan, Venkat. Understanding GERD – Symptoms. 2 November
2010. WebMD. 10 April 2011. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/understanding-gerd-symptoms.
3. NIDDK Scientists. GERD. May 2007. National Digestive
Diseases Information Clearinghouse. 9 April 2011. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/diseases/pubs/gerd/index.htm