Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic, digestive disorder wherein the acid from the stomach and stomach contents reflux – or flow back – into the esophagus and even the throat. This reflux of stomach contents and bile irritates the lining of the oesophagus causing inflammation, heart burn or a burning sensation in the upper abdomen area and stomach.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is said to be chronic when the heartburn like symptoms and acid reflux occur at least twice a week, causing disturbances in the functioning of daily life. GERD can be cured with simple medication and lifestyle and food habits, however, at times severe conditions could require surgery.
GERD is caused mainly by lifestyle and incorrect dietary factors. Smoking, excessive drinking, obesity, foods habits like overeating of fried foods, chocolate, tomatoes, garlic, caffeine, spicy food, certain medications, pregnancy, increased gastrin production that increases the level of gastric acid, etc. can cause Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). In some cases, Obstructive sleep apnea, gallstones and an H. Pylori infection can cause Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
GERD is also caused when the lower oesophageal sphincter in the stomach relaxes abnormally allowing stomach content to flow up.
In the western countries, as much as twenty percent of the population is affected with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), with about 0.4 percent of new cases of GERD. GERD affects individual over the age of 60 to 70 years of age.
The most common symptom of GERD is a frequent, recurring and persistent heartburn, or a burning sensation in the stomach and abdomen, or a pain in the upper abdomen area. However, some other commonly found symptoms are –
- Regurgitation of stomach contents, bile and acid into the throat
- Pain, tightness or a constant feeling of stuck food in the throat
- Pain while swallowing
- A dry, persistent cough
- Bad breath
Even children and infants can experience Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), however the symptoms may vary. In children and infants the symptoms are vomiting, coughing, wheezing, spitting up without any effort, food refusal, crying, and inadequate weight gain and burping. It is estimated that world over about 35% children experience reflux issues in the first few months after birth.
When should I visit a doctor?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is determined mostly when the typical symptoms are present. Any one of, or a combination of the aforementioned symptoms should be immediately checked by a doctor. Cases of heart burn should regularly conduct an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) to check for any significant damage done by the acid reflux.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), in its initial stages is most commonly treated with basic, yet necessary lifestyle changes, medication for treatment, and surgery. Treatment of GERD essentially focuses on reducing the occurrence of reflux, relieving any symptoms caused by reflux and ensuring prevention of any kind of damage to the oesophagus.
Following are procedures that are recommended for treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
- Lifestyle Changes – foods that cause discomfort and increase acidity should be avoided. These are spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, fatty or acidic foods, and chocolates.
- Medications – medical practitioners usually prescribe antacids with or without alginic acid for mild cases of GERD. However, chronic cases are treated with proton-pump inhibitors that block production of acid and heal the esophagus if any damage has taken place. H2 receptor blockers are used to reduce acid production. Certain medications that help in strengthening the esophageal sphincter are also used.
- Surgery – If Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is not cured with medication, surgery can be prescribed. Nissen Fundoplication, which involves wrapping the upper stomach around the oesophagus to strengthen the sphincter. Another known surgery involves wrapping a Linx – a tiny magnetic titanium ring – around the stomach and oesophagus junction. This is implanted using minimal invasive surgery.
The prognosis in mild cases where treatment with medication is given generally has good prognosis. The same goes with surgery; however, individuals with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) should ensure utmost precaution with their lifestyle habits.
Preventing reflux is most important for those who have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Certain lifestyle changes like avoiding food that cause reflux, avoiding excess drinking and smoking, eating healthy food and maintaining a timely diet can avoid GERD. It is imperative to consult a doctor and understand which prescribed medication cause acidity and increase the chances of reflux.