GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), is a chronic digestive disease. It is estimated that 17 million Americans suffer from GERD. If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, you need to see your healthcare provider to be evaluated for GERD.
Heartburn is caused by the backup of gastric acids into the esophagus where the lining of the esophagus becomes irritated and sends out a painful or burning sensation. This irritation can cause pain in several different locations below the breastbone, or it can radiate to the neck, throat, or jaw. The discomfort can last from a few minutes to several hours after eating. The fault lies with a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter which is suppose to keep the contents of the stomach from leaking into the esophagus, but sometimes the valve malfunctions and doesn’t close properly. This malfunction can be blamed on certain foods and drinks which relax the valve or damage sustained by the valve or genetic defects.
- Heartburn more than twice a week which is a burning sensation or pain in the chest, often spreading to the neck, throat, or jaw.
- Swallowing difficulty (dysphagia) which gives a sensation of food sticking in the throat or choking.
- Sore throat or hoarseness.
- A persistent dry cough from acid reflux into the lungs.
- Regurgitation of food and sour liquids into the mouth.
- Sensation of a lump in the throat.
- Bad breath.
Diagnosis of GERD
Diagnosis by your doctor relies on your symptoms and medical tests such as an esphagoscopy, or barium swallow test. Untreated GERD can lead to serious disorders such as Barrett’s esophagus. In this condition, the corrosive acid from the stomach has caused cellular changes in the lining of the esophagus which can lead to esophageal cancer. Medical intervention is important to prevent the progression of the disease.
GERD Treatment and remedies
- Avoiding large meals that cause extra gastric acids to be secreted. Eating smaller meals throughout the day is helpful in controlling heartburn.
- Avoiding certain foods which trigger more acid production such as spicy foods, onions, chocolate, acid fruits, peppermint, coffee, tea, tomatoes, and fatty or fried foods.
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing around the stomach and abdomen.
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol because they relax the sphincter muscle.
- Don’t lie down for three hours after eating.
- Lose weight to relieve pressure on the stomach.
- Raising your bed six inches at the head to help the gastric acids stay in your stomach, avoiding pillows that only tilt your head, but larger pillows under the upper body would be helpful.
Medications for GERD
- Antacids, such as Tums, Alka-Seltzer or Maalox which can be bought at the drugstore, can be helpful in mild cases. They work by neutralizing stomach acids, but usually are effective for only short periods of time.
- Foaming agents, such as Gaviscon, which covers your stomach contents with foam preventing reflux.
- H2 blockers, such as Pepcid AC and Zantac 75, decrease acid production.
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec and Nexium (available by prescription), halt the production of acids. They are more effective than H2 blockers, and help heal the lining of the esophagus.
- Prokinetics (available by prescription) help strengthen the sphincter valve and speed the stomach’s contents through faster. However, they do have side effects such as anxiety, fatigue, depression, sleepiness, and problems with physical movement.
- Combinations of these medications can sometimes be more effective than strictly using only one type.
Symptoms of GERD can usually be controlled with lifestyle changes and medications. If problems persist, surgery may be recommended in some cases. Your doctor should be relied upon for diagnosis, advice, and treatment in your individual situation.
© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health
Heartburn. (2009, June 23). Retrieved August 24, 2009, from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com
Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). (2007, May). Retrieved August 24, 2009, from National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov
Heartburn/GERD Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved August 24, 2009, from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com