Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic form of acid reflux. This means stomach acid is frequently moving back up into the esophagus from the stomach, usually causing discomfort. GERD can be mild acid reflux that occurs frequently or severe acid reflux that occurs less often.
Occasional acid reflux is no cause for alarm. If it is happening twice a week or more, it may be GERD, which can lead to serious complications if left untreated.
Symptoms of GERD
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest caused by irritation to the lining of the esophagus as a result of acid reflux. It usually occurs after eating or lying down. Although, it should be noted that some people can have GERD without experiencing any heartburn.
Other symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain
- Sensation of having food caught in your throat
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
Patients experiencing acid reflux at night may also experience disrupted sleep, hoarseness in the morning or laryngitis.
Causes of GERD
GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux. It is quite common, affecting an estimated 20% of all Americans.
A number of risk factors can contribute to acid reflux and GERD, such as:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Consuming foods or drinks that trigger acid reflux (e.g., fried foods, alcohol, acidic foods).
- Eating late at night.
- The use of medications that can cause acid reflux (e.g., aspirin).
- Certain conditions, including delayed stomach emptying, connective tissue disorders and hiatal hernia.
Treatment for GERD
Many patients find that they can reduce or prevent acid reflux by avoiding trigger foods like fatty or spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol; as well as making other lifestyle changes or avoiding the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. If lifestyle changes are not effective, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or surgery.
GERD can typically be diagnosed based on a physical examination and medical history. However, there are also tests that can confirm a GERD diagnosis, such as an upper endoscopy, esophageal acid testing and X-ray.
Lifestyle changes are usually the first step in treating chronic acid reflux. Recommendations may include:
- Smoking cessation.
- Losing weight.
- Diet modification to avoid foods and drinks that trigger reflux.
- Waiting 3 hours or more after eating before lying down.
- Elevating the head of your bed.
OTC medications (such as antacids and acid blockers) can also help reduce or prevent acid reflux from occurring.
For those who don’t respond to lifestyle changes and OTC medication, prescription-strength medications to block acid and strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter may be required. Surgery and other procedures are also available. However, GERD can usually be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.
While GERD isn’t life-threatening, it can lead to other serious conditions like esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. If you are experiencing frequent acid reflux, we urge you to consult your doctor or make an appointment with one of our experienced gastroenterologists.
The physicians at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., treat multiple conditions and diseases of the GI tract. Our Board-Certified physicians have over 150 years of combined experience in providing quality care you can trust. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.