Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Diseases, also known as GERD, is a disorder that directly affects the lower sphincter of the esophagus. This sphincter is actually a muscular ring located between the base of the esophagus and the entrance to the stomach.

There is a large percentage of the human population suffering from this disorder, including pregnant women. Many times, this disorder is instigated by a primary condition known as a hiatal hernia, which is not a serious condition, but it does lead to serious, intermittent discomfort.

When broken down, the name of the condition actually does explain the condition quite well.

Gastroesophageal = stomach and esophagus

Reflux = To back-flow or return to the origin

When the two terms are combined, it directly translates to “the return of stomach contents into the esophagus.

During the normal digestive phase, lower esophageal sphincter opens long enough to allow food to enter into the stomach. After which, it closes to prevent food and stomach acid from reentering the esophagus. However, in someone who suffers from GERD, this sphincter does not close, or does not close completely. This allows both food and gastric juices to reenter the esophagus, causing serious pain, inflammation, and erosion of the tissue.

What are the Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

The symptoms of GERD can vary greatly from person to person. However, there are a standard list of textbook symptoms that you can expect. Keep in mind, symptoms vary depending on the person and the severity of the disorder.

The primary symptom of GERD is heartburn. Later, this heartburn may be accompanied by the other symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Regurgitation
  • Tasting acid
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sharp, burning pressure in the abdomen
  • Hoarse voice
  • Laryngitis, or the inability to speak above a whisper
  • Dry cough that can become chronic
  • Symptoms of asthma
  • The sensation of a lump in your throat
  • Increased saliva production
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Ear aches
  • Chest pain or discomfort, usually caused by the hiatal hernia

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Causes

Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when acid from the stomach comes back up into the esophagus. The esophagus contains a band of muscle called the esophageal sphincter. This sphincter muscle is designed to close off and keep acid in the stomach. However, this sphincter muscle may weaken and allow acid into the esophagus.

There are several different conditions that may lead to the development of GERD. In people who are overweight, excess weight may cause added pressure on the stomach. This may in turn cause pressure on the esophageal sphincter and allow acid to escape into the esophagus.

Another primary cause of GERD is a hiatal hernia. In those with a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach has protruded up through the diaphragm. Almost everyone who has a hiatal hernia has GERD.

Certain medications are known to cause GERD too. Antidepressants, asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, pain relievers and tetracycline antibiotics are most often responsible.

A person’s diet is very often a cause of GERD. Eating a lot of spicy or salty foods increases the amount of acid in the stomach making it more likely that acid will escape back into the esophagus.

How is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Treated?

The treatment for GERD varies depending on the severity of the disorder. At first, your doctor may recommend that you change your diet and lifestyle.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Not going to bed on a full stomach
  • Decreasing portion sizes
  • Eating your meal slower
  • Wearing loose fitting clothing
  • Avoiding foods that trigger heartburn
  • Losing weight
  • Smoking cessation
  • Avoiding alcoholic beverages
  • Keeping a diary of what triggers your symptoms

Medication

Over-the counter medicine

Many times, doctors will recommend over-the-counter heart burn remedies. These treatments usually involve:

  • Antacids to neutralize stomach acid
  • Acid Reducers
  • Combination of antacids and acid reducers

Prescription Medications

If over the counter medications do not work to treat your symptoms of GERD, prescription medications may be needed. These treatments usually fall into the following categories:

  • Histamine -2 Blockers
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Promotility Agents

Surgical Treatment

For many people, over-the-counter and prescription medications work to treat GERD. However, for severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment. This procedure is completed using an endoscope, or a tube that is placed down your throat. While the tube is in your throat, your doctor may be able to repair the damage to your LES sphincter. Surgery is usually only considered if you have one of the following:

  • Restrictive inflammation of the esophagus
  • Narrowing of the esophagus
  • Severe damage or alteration of the esophagus due to Barrett’s esophagus

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disesase Prevention

There are several ways that GERD may be prevented. One of the primary ways to prevent GERD is to keep one’s weight at a healthy level. Even being a few pounds overweight will contribute to GERD development.

Changing one’s diet is important for GERD prevention. Eating a diet that is low in fat and salt is essential. Avoid foods that are spicy or smoked. Cut down on the amount of red meat and processed meat in the diet. Also, eating smaller sized meals will help prevent GERD. Do not eat anything before going to bed.

Lying in bed with a slight elevation will prevent GERD if it is especially troublesome when lying down. Use a couple of extra pillows or elevate the head and shoulders with a foam pad.