What is GERD?
The National Institute of Digestive Diseases describes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) as the occurrence of your stomach contents coming back up into your esophagus and affects about 20% of the U.S. population. The contents from our stomachs are typically gastric juice, bile or stomach acid. GERD is a chronic condition where someone is experiencing reflux symptoms more than twice a week for several weeks in a row. Those that are more susceptible to developing GERD are those individuals that are overweight, pregnant women and those that smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke.
Is it GERD or Heartburn?
Despite its name, heartburn doesn't affect the heart. Heartburn is a burning feeling in the lower chest, along with a sour or bitter taste in the throat and mouth. Almost 60% of the adult U.S. population will experience some type of heartburn in a 12-month period. It commonly occurs after eating a big meal or while lying down. The feeling can last for a few minutes or a few hours. Heartburn is caused by the valve between the stomach and esophagus (esophageal sphincter) not fully closing, which allows acid from your stomach to enter the esophagus; this is also called acid reflux.
Acid reflux is a very common medical condition that may or may not be serious. GERD is the chronic more severe form of acid reflux, and heartburn is a symptom of GERD and acid reflux.
If your heartburn symptoms occur frequently it may be due to something more serious like GERD. If you answer YES to any of these questions , you should see your doctor regarding your heartburn:
- Have you been treating your heartburn with over-the-counter medicines for more than 2 weeks?
- Do you wake up at night with heartburn?
- Do you have difficulty swallowing?
- Have you experienced unusual weight loss or a loss of appetite?
Symptoms of GERD
GERD is characterized by symptoms that result from repeated or prolonged exposure of the lining of the esophagus to contents from the stomach. The symptoms of GERD vary widely from patient to patient and some patients that have it are asymptomatic. The most common symptoms of GERD are:
- Acid Reflux – regurgitation of food or liquid
- Heartburn – burning sensation in chest
- Chest pain
- Sore throat
- Sensation of a lump in throat
- Swallowing problems
- Sinus problems
- Dry Cough
How is GERD diagnosed?
An EGD or upper endoscopy is the best way to evaluate the esophagus for any damage from reflux disease and to make sure there are no complications such as esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, stricture (narrowing of esophagus due to scarring) or esophageal cancer.
If the diagnosis remains in question, a Bravo capsule study can be performed. For this study a small capsule device is attached to the lower esophagus and sends pH readings to a recorder worn on a belt. This study can determine the whether or not a patient is experiencing a significant amount of acid reflux during the recorded period.
For severe reflux surgical options include a Nissen fundoplication or the Linx procedure.
The goals of GERD treatment in Plano, TX are:
- To bring the symptoms under control so that you feel better
- Heal the esophagus of any inflammation or injury
- Keep the symptoms of GERD in remission so that daily life is not affected by reflux
The first step in improving GERD symptoms is diet and lifestyle modifications such as:
- Change your diet to avoid foods that trigger heartburn
- Avoid overeating
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wait 3 hours after eating before lying down
- Elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches
- Don’t smoke or drink excessive amounts of carbonated beverages or alcohol
If diet and lifestyle changes don’t eliminate your symptoms and if symptoms are infrequent, use of over the counter antacids (Maalox or Mylanta) or H2 blockers like ranitidine (Zantac) or Famotidine (Pepcid) can be helpful. For more frequent or severe symptoms a Proton pump inhibitor such as Omeprazole, Esomeprazole, Lansoprazole might be necessary. If symptoms remain persistent or if there are any alarm symptoms such as weight loss, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, among others then you should see your gastroenterologist for further evaluation.