According to WebMD, one in five Americans experience heartburn and acid reflux each week. If these problems become more severe and chronic, you may suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is a common problem affecting about 20% of the U.S. population. If you suffer from moderate or severe forms of GERD, treatments are available that can help. Here’s what you should know about GERD.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is a digestive issue that centers on the portion of muscle that separates your esophagus and stomach. This ring of muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Its function is like a gateway. When you eat or drink, the LES opens the door to let sustenance move from your esophagus and into the stomach. Then it closes to prevent any food or stomach acids from moving back up into your esophagus.
When you have GERD, the LES doesn’t close properly, and food comes back into the esophagus. This causes chronic acid reflux that can lead to all kinds of issues – some of them serious.
What Causes GERD?
The International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) says, “There is no known single cause of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).” While occasional acid reflux is normal, there are a number of factors that can cause or lead to the condition known as GERD. They include:
- A hiatal hernia
- Being overweight
- Delayed emptying of the stomach or stomach distension
- Diseases of the connective tissue such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Fried, spicy, or other types of trigger foods
- Too much stomach acid is produced
How Will I Know if I Have GERD?
Heartburn or acid indigestion is the most common symptom of GERD. That will feel like a burning pain or pressure in your chest and throat. Some people say it feels like their food is coming back up their esophagus and it produces a bitter taste in their mouth. If you lie down or bend over too soon after eating it could cause this problem. Taking an over-the-counter antacid can help, or standing up. A word of caution: don’t mistake the pain of heartburn for heart disease—and vise versa. If you can’t tell the difference, or think you’re having chest pain, it’s a good idea to seek a doctor’s opinion.
In addition to the burning pain in your throat or chest, GERD can cause bad breath and nausea. It can even make it hard to breathe or difficult to swallow. Patients that have GERD can complain of a lump in their throat and can even vomit, which doesn’t help with the GERD symptoms, of course.
Lying down can only exacerbate the issue in most cases, so if you experience GERD at night you may also have other issues such as a cough or laryngitis, sleep problems, or even asthma.
Can GERD Cause Other Health Problems?
If left untreated, GERD can cause all kinds of long-term, serious health issues. Some of these include:
- Barrett’s esophagus is a condition where the cells in the esophagus turn precancerous
- Esophageal cancer
- Esophagitis causes ulcers in the esophagus
- Strictures are a narrowing of the esophagus that makes it had to swallow
- Tooth decay from all the acid
If you’re experiencing heartburn regularly, it’s time to see your doctor to determine if you have GERD and to treat it properly before it becomes more serious.
How Can I Treat GERD?
Dr. Chetan J. Patel, MD, FACS, board-certified general surgeon, is trained to detect whether you have GERD. Every patient is different, and some can be treated with diet and medications. Others may not be able to control their symptoms by using these methods. In these cases, Dr. Patel and his team can thoroughly test you for GERD by using some of these procedures:
- Esophageal manometry to test the function of the LES and esophageal muscles and their effectiveness in pushing food from your esophagus to the stomach. In this procedure, we insert a small flexible tube with sensors into the nose. These sensors can measure the strength of these important digestive muscles as you swallow.
- Esophageal pH and impedance monitoring and Bravo wireless esophageal pH monitoring tracks the pH levels in the esophagus. Your doctor will place a thin tube through your mouth or nose into your stomach. Then you go home, but we’re still monitoring the pH levels as you eat and sleep.
- Upper GI series takes x-rays of your upper GI tract to look for problems stemming from GERD. We also have you drink barium to help illuminate your insides. We may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to examine.
If you are diagnosed with GERD there are a number of ways you can lessen your symptoms. First, there are over-the-counter and prescription medications, including:
- Antacids such as Maalox, Tums, or Rolaids, which work by neutralizing stomach acids
- Baclofen is a prescription medication that improves the functioning of the LES
- H-2 receptor blocks to decrease production of acid such as Pepcid AC, or Tagamet
- Proton pump inhibitors like Nexium or Prevacid, which are stronger acid blockers that also heal the esophagus
Normally, GERD is treatable with lifestyle changes and these medications. If these do not work, there are also minimally invasive surgical techniques to fix the problem. These include:
- Laparoscopic antireflux surgery that creates a new LES valve at the bottom of your esophagus
- LINX device implantation is surgery to place a ring of small magnets in the esophagus to help close the LES
Can Changing My Diet Help My GERD?
Changing your diet and exercise won’t eliminate GERD, but it could help you manage your symptoms. If you have GERD, you should avoid:
- Certain foods such as fatty fried meals, coffee, chocolate, or alcohol
- Eating too close to bedtime
- Large meals
- Some medications such as aspirin
Try eating several smaller meals throughout the day instead of two or three large meals. You should also stay upright for 45 to 60 minutes after eating. Wear clothes that are less constricting in the belly area to avoid pushing acid into the esophagus. You can even raise the head of your bed six to eight so your head is slightly higher than your feet when you sleep.
If none of these lifestyle changes give you relief, help is available at Nona Minimally Invasive Surgery. We can help you control GERD, make you much more comfortable, and get your life back on track. Talk to our team today and start your healing journey.