It is characterized by the frequent occurrence of acid reflux, which is considered at least twice per week or is severe enough that it affects one’s every day life.
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter functions improperly, allowing stomach contents, including acid, to move back up into the esophagus.
The lower esophageal sphincter is a ring of muscle that sits in between the bottom of the esophagus and top of the stomach.
When functioning properly, it remains tightly closed and relaxes only when food is passing through to the stomach.
If it fails to work, the muscle may relax at the wrong time or too frequently, allowing acid to travel back into the esophagus causing acid reflux. When this occurs frequently, it becomes known of GERD.
GERD is commonly known for causing a burning sensation in the chest and throat area. Other symptoms of GERD include an acidic taste in one’s mouth, a feeling of having food stuck in one’s throat, difficulty swallowing, a dry cough, chronic hoarseness and a chronic sore throat.
GERD also causes an irritation in the lining of the esophagus, sometimes causing it to become inflamed. Over time, it wears away the lining causing long term damage, including:
- Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition
- Narrowing of the esophagus
While all cases of GERD are caused by the frequent occurrence of acid reflux, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood that one will experience GERD. The most common risk factors include:
Obesity – Excess weight puts added pressure on one’s stomach, causing contents to move back into the esophagus
Pregnancy – Pregnant women are extremely likely to suffer from GERD due to the hormone relaxin, which causes the muscles of the body to relax, including those in the digestive system. Also, in the later stages, the growing uterus and baby put added pressure on the stomach, increase the occurrence of acid reflux.
Smoking – Smoking causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax improperly, increasing likelihood of suffering from GERD.
Hiatal Hernia – This is a medical condition where the upper portion of the stomach moves above the diaphragm, increasing acid reflux occurrence. Since the stomach is above the diaphragm, the lower esophageal sphincter is not able to function properly. Typically, this condition is left untreated unless it is causing severe acid reflux or GERD.
Lower esophageal sphincter abnormalities – Two LES abnormalities have been found in a high number of people experiencing GERD. First, weak contracts of the LES, which prevents it from stopping acid from traveling back into the esophagus. Second, transient LES relaxation, which is when the LES relaxes for no reason and often for a longer period of time than is normal. This occurs most often after eating when the stomach is enlarged with food.
Less common risk factors for GERD include:
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Connective tissue disorders
- Dry mouth
Other risk factors include certain foods and beverages that have been shown to increase the chance of GERD. The most common ones include:
- Fatty foods
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomato products
When one is suffering from GERD, a doctor will most likely make a diagnosis based on a detailed account of the symptoms one is experiencing as well as the results from any number of tests. Some of the more common diagnostic exams include:
- Ambulatory acid probe test, which monitors the amount of acid present in one’s esophagus over a period of 24 hours.
- An x-ray of the upper digestive system
- An endoscopy, which is a scope placed down the throat into the esophagus that lets a physician see what, if any, inflammation is present
- Esophageal motility test, which tests the movement and pressure in the esophagus
Once diagnosed, there are a number of options available for the treatment of GERD. These options include medications, lifestyle changes and in some severe cases, surgery.
Medications that are used to treat GERD include:
- H2 Blockers
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
- Foaming Agents
Lifestyle changes that are recommended include:
- Eat smaller meals
- Eat slower
- Raise the head of the bed 6 inches
- Wait 3 hours after eating before going to bed
- Quit smoking when applicable
- Lose weight, if necessary
- Avoid trigger foods and beverages
The information provided here is meant to be information and does not constitute medical advice. If one is experiencing symptoms and believes it may be GERD, they should consult a medical professional. One should see a physician for proper diagnosis and to discuss the best treatment options available.