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What is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that occurs when stomach acid leaks back (acid reflux) from the stomach into the esophagus.
The esophagus is the tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach.
GERD affects many people at some point in their lives, and it happens without them knowing.
But in some cases, GERD can cause acid indigestion, which is known as heartburn.
GERD can permanently damage the esophagus if it is not treated.
Symptoms of GERD
- Heartburn. Often after meals and at night. This typically gets worse when lying down.
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). In some cases, swallowing can be painful because food or liquid sometimes gets into the tube that connects your mouth to your lungs, called the esophagus.
- Chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough. This is caused by stomach acid traveling up to your esophagus and irritating the lining of your chest.
- Bad breath. GERD can cause the food you eat to come back up into your mouth and sit on your teeth. This causes a bad odor when you exhale.
- Sore throat, hoarseness, or a dry cough that gets worse in the morning or at night. These symptoms may be caused by acid from your stomach coming up through your esophagus and irritating your voice box (larynx) and airways.
- Trouble breathing. GERD can cause stomach acid to reach your lungs. This is very rare, but it may happen in people who have severe GERD or hiatal hernia.
- Regurgitation (bringing up food or fluid). This happens when stomach acid and food come back up from your stomach and go into your mouth.
- A sensation of a lump in your throat.
- A sour taste in your mouth. It often occurs after meals when stomach acid leaks back up.
- Wearing away of the tooth enamel.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
What causes GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs because of a weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The LES is a ring of muscle fibers that normally functions like a valve, preventing the backflow of stomach contents into your esophagus.
The pressure in your abdomen builds up when you eat and then falls as food moves out of your stomach into the small intestine.
After eating, this lower valve or sphincter should close quickly and tight, preventing the stomach acids from moving up.
But if it doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, stomach acid can move up into your esophagus.
This is what causes the burning sensation in your chest, also known as heartburn.
Who gets GERD?
More than 60 million Americans have acid reflux at least once a month.
According to certain research, 15 million or more people in the United States are affected by heartburn symptoms every day.
People who are overweight or obese, pregnant women, and people who eat large meals can increase your risk of developing GERD.
Other risk factors include:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Wearing tight-fitting clothing around the abdomen (e.g., girdles)
- Eating too quickly
- Drinking carbonated drinks.
How is GERD diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose GERD by taking a complete medical history, including your symptoms, and doing a physical exam.
In some cases, you may need tests such as an upper endoscopy or esophageal manometry to help determine if you have GERD.
Treatment for GERD
There are many different treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach and protect the esophagus from damage.
Treatment options include:
- Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, eating smaller meals, and avoiding acidic or spicy foods.
- Not lying down for three hours after eating.
- Raising the head of your bed six to eight inches.
- Lying down on the left side.
- Taking over-the-counter medications such as antacids or H-receptor blockers.
- Take prescription medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce stomach acid production.
- Moderate physical activity, such as walking, has also been shown to be helpful in reducing GERD symptoms.
- Surgery to correct a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
What can you do to help prevent GERD?
There are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Lose weight if you’re overweight or obese.
- Eat smaller meals and avoid food that may trigger heartburn, such as fatty or spicy foods.
- Don’t eat within three hours before going to bed.
- Relax after a meal and don’t eat when you’re stressed out.
- Don’t smoke cigarettes and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Chew gum after meals. The chewing action helps produce more saliva, which can help neutralize stomach acid.
- Avoid drinking carbonated drinks.
- Wear loose clothing around the abdomen.
- Take medications as prescribed by your doctor.
When to see a Gastroenterologist?
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
- Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week or keeps coming back after treatment.
- Burning in the chest or throat is worse than usual after a meal, especially if you also have trouble swallowing.
- Chest pain that lasts more than two hours.
- Trouble swallowing, especially if the food feels like it’s getting stuck.
- If you have a family history of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- If you’re taking over-the-counter medications for GERD more than twice a week, talk to your doctor.
Seek immediate medical treatment if you have severe symptoms, such as vomiting blood or being unable to eat anything without heartburn pain.
Read more: 8 Foods That Help Acid Reflux Go Away