GERD - What You Should Know Acid Reflux
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also known by it’s more common name, acid reflux. It occurs when the contents in the stomach move up into the esophagus causing discomfort and possible damage. It’s also known as gastroesophageal reflux or acid regurgitation.
Some people have occasional heartburn. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean GERD. If the symptoms occur more than a couple times a week, there’s a chance you could have GERD. About 20% of Americans have it, and if left untreated, serious complications and damage can arise.
GERD occurs when a circular band of muscle called the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) doesn’t work properly. Normally, it opens when swallowing, and closes back up afterward. When the LES does not work properly, it allows content from the stomach, especially acidic liquid, to rise into the esophagus.
The Symptoms of GERD
One of the most common symptoms of GERD is an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest area, which leads to the term heartburn. It will also often radiate upward to the neck and throat.
Another symptom is a developing bitter or sour taste in the back of the mouth. You might regurgitate liquid or food when acids come up from the stomach to the mouth.
It can also lead to difficulty with swallowing and breathing, as well as what’s called GERD cough, or a chronic cough or asthma.
If you or your doctor suspect that you might have GERD, make an appointment with your doctor. They will start with an exam and a few questions, which will determine the next steps in diagnosing, which might include:
● Barium Swallow - After drinking a solution (barium), x-ray imaging can look at the upper digestive tract.
● Upper Endoscopy - A small camera at the end of a tube is used to view the esophagus, and take a biopsy, if necessary.
● Esophageal Manometry - the strength of the esophageal muscles is measured with flexible tubing.
● Esophageal PH Monitoring - the PH level of your esophagus is checked to see if acid is entering from the stomach.
The next step can be determined during the initial exam.
What Are the Risk Factors for GERD?
There are several underlying conditions and lifestyles that will increase the risk of developing GERD. The conditions that increase the risk include:
● Hiatal Hernia
● Connective tissue disorder
Lifestyles that will increase the chances include:
● Eating overly large meals
● Lying down immediately after eating
● Consuming certain foods or beverages, especially spicy food or alcohol and caffeine
● Excessive use of anti-inflammatories
Modifying any of the above behaviors or conditions could decrease your risk of GERD, or help manage it, if you already have it.
GERD Treatment Options
Gastroesophageal reflux disease treatment options vary, depending on the patient and each individual case. The first step for preventing or managing symptoms is to consider diet or lifestyle changes.
Over the counter treatments and other options include:
● Proton Pump Inhibitors
● H2 Receptor Blockers
If these options don’t provide relief, or your particular case is severe, the doctor might recommend surgery.
Potential Complications that Could Develop from GERD
Fortunately, the majority of people with GERD do not suffer with serious complications. However, complications can occur, and could lead to a life-threatening crisis. Here are some potential concerns:
● Esophagitis - inflammation of the esophagus
● Barrett’s Esophagus - permanent damage to the lining of the esophagus
● Esophageal Stricture - the narrowing of the esophagus
● Tooth Enamel Erosion - acid reflux can erode the enamel
● Asthma - breathing problems can develop from acid in the lungs
● Esophageal Cancer - cancer of the esophagus
Proper treatment and diet can diminish the chances of these severe complications from developing.
A GERD or Acid Reflux Diet
Certain foods can easily trigger acid reflux. So, it’s best to avoid those foods as often as possible. Here are some acid reflux foods to avoid:
● Spicy foods and spices
● Foods high in fat
In addition to the foods above, it’s best to avoid coffee, teas, and sodas as well. These triggers can vary for everyone. It’s best to remove them from your diet. If you want to be sure if it’s one of your triggers, try adding one at a time to your diet. If you develop discomfort, then you know to eliminate it from your dietary intake. A trained dietician can also help you with a GERD diet.
Home Remedies for Acid Reflux and Heartburn
There are multiple things you can do on your own that will help with the discomfort of simple acid reflux or heartburn. Here are a few home remedies for heartburn relief:
● Lose excessive weight
● Stop smoking
● Eat smaller portions at meal time
● No lying down after eating
● Chew gum after a meal
● Practice yoga or meditation
● Avoid trigger foods
● Don’t wear tight clothing
In addition to the above, some herbs are thought to be helpful in relieving discomfort:
● Licorice root
● Slippery elm
● Marshmallow root
There are several tea options that are infused with these herbs. However, when adding anything to your diet that you are not familiar with, it’s best to check with your doctor. And, add anything new to your diet slowly.
GERD and Asthma
About 75% of asthma patients experience acid reflux or GERD on some level. Even though more research is necessary to explain the connection, it seems to be a vicious cycle. GERD is thought to worsen asthma cases. But, it is also thought that some asthma medications could be raising the risk of developing GERD.
Asthma and GERD can work against and interfere with each other. So, both need to be well-managed.
Infants with GERD
Acid reflux in babies is not rare, unfortunately. Nearly ⅔ of babies who are around 4 months old have some symptoms of acid reflux. At the age of 1, it’s about 10%. Most babies spit up occasionally. However, if it’s happening frequently, there’s a chance your baby might have GERD. This should not go unchecked or untreated.
Symptoms GERD infants might experience include the following:
● Won’t eat
● Difficulty in swallowing
● Wet burps
● Irritable after eating
● Weight loss
● Arching their back after a feeding
● Frequent cough
● Trouble sleeping
If your baby has these symptoms, or you suspect they have acid reflux, bring your concern to your pediatrician right away.
And, if you are frequently experiencing symptoms of acid reflux, make sure you mention this to your doctor. Left untreated, it could lead to avoidable complications.