The lower esophageal sphincter sits between the top of the stomach and bottom of the esophagus. It is designed to open when food needs to pass into the stomach but otherwise should remain tightly closed to prevent stomach contents from traveling back into the esophagus.
When it fails to function properly, stomach contents including stomach acid, travel back into the esophagus causing irritation and inflammation. This repeated exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid causes the symptoms of GERD as well as tissue damage in the esophagus.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is most often caused by dietary triggers or lifestyle factors. The most common causes include:
- Overly fatty foods
- Hiatal hernia
Most people who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease will have mild symptoms with little to no tissue damage, known as non-erosive GERD. Others however, will have a more severe case of gastroesophageal reflux disease with the associated tissue damage, known as esophagitis or erosive GERD.
The most common symptom of GERD is chronic heartburn, meaning it occurs more than twice per week or for a period of more than five years. Heartburn is experienced as a burning sensation in the chest area behind the breastbone as well as the lower throat.
While occasional heartburn is rarely cause for concern, if one has heartburn along with any of the below conditions they are most likely suffering from GERD and may want to seek medical advice for diagnosis and treatment. These conditions include:
- Heartburn that occurs two or more times per week
- Heartburn that occurs infrequently but consistently over a period of 5 or more years
- Heartburn that occurs at night, often waking one up from sleep
- Heartburn that is accompanied by difficulty swallowing
Symptoms of GERD
While heartburn is the most common and well-known symptoms of GERD, there are a number of other less common symptoms one may experience also including:
- Regurgitation of acid, which is when acid travel back into one’s mouth
- Waterbrash, which is a sudden excess amount of saliva in one’s mouth
- Chronic sore throat
- Chronic coughing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Feeling that food is stuck in one’s throat
- Inflammation of the gums
- Erosion of teeth enamel
- Acidic taste in one’s mouth
- Bad breath
If one experiences a chronic sore throat and coughing, it could be due to GERD. Reflux that occurs at night, sometimes without even waking a person up, can cause irritation and damage to the throat. This can leave one with a chronic cough and sore throat.
This most often is due to late night eating or alcohol consumption. Reducing and eliminating these activities entirely should clear up the symptoms as well.
Laryngitis and hoarseness are also symptoms of GERD. This is due to the fact that sometimes the acid refluxes into the larynx, or voice box, which causes irritation and damage. GERD with these symptoms can be extremely difficult to diagnose but usually damage can be seen through a scope examination. In these cases, proton pump inhibitor medications are usually an effective treatment option in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
Erosion of teeth enamel is actually an extremely rare symptom of GERD but is most often associated with GERD in children.
If one is diagnosed with GERD, lifestyle changes and dietary restrictions are usually effective enough treatment options. When these changes are made, many people can avoid the need for medications entirely. The most common recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Eating smaller meals
- Waiting 3 hours after eating before going to sleep
- Raising the head of the bed 6 inches
- Avoiding trigger foods and beverages, especially coffee, alcohol, chocolate, citrus and peppermint
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight if overweight
In severe cases of GERD, a physician may recommend a medication. There are a number of medications available for the treatment of GERD, the options include:
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
- Foaming Agents
- H2 blockers
We recommend a more natural treatment for GERD that doesn’t include medications and harmful side effects.
As with any medical condition, one should always consult with their physician if they are experiencing any discomfort or the symptoms listed here. The information provided here is meant to be information and does not constitute medical advice in any way. A medical professional should always be consulted in order to receive a proper diagnosis and to understand one’s treatment options. Medications should never be taken without a physician’s recommendation if one if pregnant or breastfeeding.