GERD cannot go away on its own. Without treatment, this disease can cause serious physical complications over time. But, with proper management, GERD does not have to overwhelm your life. So, you may be asking, what are the treatments available to help you cope with this disease?
What is GERD?
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 20% of the U.S. population suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But not everyone who suffers discomfort during eating or digesting actually has GERD.
Many people suffer from acid reflux or “heartburn.” When acid reflux turns into a chronic condition, it’s known as GERD. Patients can use the three terms — acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD — interchangeably, but medically-speaking, they are different:
- Acid reflux is a condition where acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus
- GERD is a chronic and more severe form of acid reflux
- Heartburn isn’t heart-related, although it can cause burning into your chest caused by acid reflux or GERD
GERD occurs when the muscle at the end of your esophagus malfunctions. Think of that muscle as a door that opens and shuts. When you eat or drink, food travels down your throat through your esophagus, and toward the stomach. As the food reaches the esophageal muscle, the door, or the esophageal muscle, should open to allow the food to enter your stomach. Then the door should firmly close. If that muscle (or door) fails to close properly, the contents of your stomach, along with digestive acids, start traveling the wrong way back up toward your throat.
The symptom you experience when this happens feels like heartburn; sharp or dull pain in your chest and throat. You may have nausea or vomiting, belching, or even problems swallowing. When this happens chronically, your doctor will diagnose the condition known as GERD.
How Do I Know if I Have GERD?
If you experience moderate to severe acid reflux at least once or twice a week, you may have a chronic condition known as GERD. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have heartburn after eating?
- Is that burning sensation in my chest worse at night?
- Do I feel like there is a lump in my throat?
- Is my sleep disrupted by a chronic cough?
If this sounds all too familiar, it’s time to talk with your doctor.
Can GERD Go Away on Its Own?
No, GERD is a potentially serious condition and it will not go away on its own. Untreated GERD can cause the esophagus to swell and all that stomach acid could potentially wear away the lining. It could even lead to esophageal cancer, which can be fatal.
Many people initially try to treat their GERD with over-the-counter antacids. This may help for a time. If you can identify foods that cause the GERD to flare-up, that is a good way to help alleviate or lessen the symptoms. Foods that typically contribute to GERD include:
- Acidic juices
- Coffee or tea
- Fatty foods
Avoiding these foods may help with acid reflux, but they won’t cure a chronic GERD condition.
You can also avoid eating right before bed or lying down right after eating. Try to limit your portion sizes, because eating large meals can also cause a flare-up. Stopping smoking and losing weight could be helpful, as well. But none of these measures will actually cure your GERD diagnosis.
How is GERD Diagnosed and Treated?
If you suspect GERD is causing you pain, it’s time to visit a doctor specializing in gastrointestinal disorders like Chetan J. Patel, M.D. at Orlando Minimally Invasive Surgery. Dr. Patel is board-certified in general surgery and fellowship-trained in advanced gastrointestinal, minimally invasive, and bariatric surgery. A gastroenterologist has specialized training in managing digestive tract diseases of the esophagus, colon, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver.
A thorough history and physical exam at your doctor’s practice may yield a diagnosis that GERD is the problem. However, to confirm the diagnosis, routine clinical testing could include:
- Ambulatory acid (pH) probe that uses a monitor placed in your esophagus to identify how long stomach acid regurgitates in that location
- Esophageal manometry measures the esophageal contractions when you swallow
- Esophageal pH monitoring inserts a tiny monitor into your esophagus to see what’s happening
- Upper endoscopy is a thin flexible camera on a tube that your doctor will use to examine the inside of the esophagus and stomach
- After drinking a barium solution, an X-ray of the upper digestive tract to see what’s happening in these sections of the body
Treatment of GERD can consist of:
- Lifestyle changes that could include avoiding foods that trigger GERD
- Antacids that can neutralize stomach acid
- Medications that can reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach
- There are also surgeries that can help correct the condition
Will My GERD Come Back?
If you don’t manage the symptoms, GERD can come back. However, being diagnosed with GERD doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life. There are ways to control your symptoms with treatment. With this proper ongoing treatment, you may never have another GERD symptom. To get to this stage, however, you must first see your doctor.
Controlling your GERD symptoms usually requires a few lifestyle choices, as well as medications to control symptoms. Some of the best things that can help include:
- Eating up to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals
- Slow down your eating habits by sitting at a table and putting down your spoon or fork between bites
- Don’t eat at least two hours before bedtime
- Lose weight and avoid tight-fitting clothing
- Try to elevate your head for sleeping
- Avoid any foods that seem to trigger a GERD attack
Your doctor will develop a thorough, customized treatment plan, which could include:
- Antacids to neutralize the acid of the stomach
- Medications to lower acid production
- Medications to block acid production and to heal the lining of the esophagus
While GERD can usually be treated with medications and a few lifestyle changes. However, if medications do not help, a surgical option may be considered. For example:
- The stomach can be modified to tighten the esophageal muscle
- Tiny magnetic beads, called a LINX device can help modify and repair the stomach and esophagus
If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms of GERD, do not wait. The talented team at the Orlando Reflux Center is standing by to help you live pain-free from GERD. Click here to talk with our team.