GERD – symptoms – causes – treatment

GERD

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) also known as acid reflux or acid regurgitation is a common condition. It happens when the content of the stomach flows back to the esophagus or food pipe. It causes a burning sensation known as heartburn. If you experience the problem of acid reflux for more than three days a week, you might have GERD.

Symptoms of GERD

GERD normally occurs due to acid reflux. Acid reflux causes a burning sensation in your lower chest area. It may also reach your throat. This condition is also known as heartburn. You might feel a bitter taste in your throat. It is due to your stomach content that contains food with acids. The most common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Bad breath
  • Chest pain
  • Pain while swallowing food

Treatment of GERD

Treatment of GERD requires making some lifestyle changes. You may also try different foods that help acid reflux – but these foods will not cure the acid reflux. They will give you ease from the symptoms of GERD.

Treatment of GERD involves adopting the following lifestyle changes:

  • Eat slowly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking
  • Do not eat before going to bed
  • Finish your meal 3 to 4 hours before going to bed
  • Don’t lie down just after eating
  • Raise your head while sleeping

Medications for GERD

If your symptoms are not improving, you must consult your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe you the following OTC (over-the-counter) medications. They may have a few side effects, so it is recommended to consult your doctor before using these medicines.

Antacids – these are given when symptoms are mild. If you use antacids regularly, they might no longer work for you. You will need a stronger dose of another medicine if you are repeatedly using it. 

H2 receptors blockers – these are used to minimize the quantity of acid in your stomach. However, you must consult your doctor before taking these H2 receptors blockers. One of these blockers is Zantac – which has been recalled by the FDA due to the presence of cancer-causing chemicals.

PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) – PPIs are normally recommended and preferred over H2 blockers. They work better than H2 blockers and help in healing the lining of the esophagus. These inhibitors adjust or minimize the acidity in the stomach. Depending upon your condition: your doctor will prescribe you the right dose.

Surgery for GERD

Lifestyle changes, remedies, and medications are enough to treat GERD however, in some cases, surgery is required. Your doctor will recommend surgery if you have developed serious conditions or the medications are not working for you.

LINX device

The LINX device is used to avoid the backward flow of acid from the stomach to the esophagus. Here a magnetic ring is wrapped around the junction of the esophagus and stomach. This ring helps food to travel from the esophagus to the stomach while preventing acid from returning to the stomach.

Fundoplication

This process involves a slight invasive surgery. The upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower part of the esophagus. It tightens the muscles and also avoids acid reflux.

TIF (transoral incisionless fundoplication)

Polypropylene clips or ties are used to tighten the lower sphincter of the esophagus. These are wrapped around the lower sphincters without performing major surgery.

An endoscope is inserted through the mouth to perform TIF. This process is very effective as it requires a little time for healing. 

Home remedies that may not work for GERD

Most people prefer home remedies over medications to treat GERD symptoms. If your symptoms are mild, these remedies may help you. But if you have a condition of chronic GERD, you must consult your health care provider.

Few home remedies may cause more harm to you rather than giving you ease from the symptoms.

  • Drinking baking soda and water helps in neutralizing the acidity of the stomach because of its alkaline nature. Taking small doses of this mixture is recommended because this drink is high in sodium content. Drinking baking soda and water for GERD on a long-term basis may cause other health problems due to high sodium content.
  • Some people make use of ginger to ease the symptoms of acid reflux. Its anti-inflammatory properties help in soothing the lining of the esophagus. Still, more studies are required to see the benefits of ginger for acid reflux. On the other hand, a high intake of ginger is also linked with heartburn.
  • Milk has alkaline nature. It is one of the best remedies to soothe acid reflux symptoms. Although it is good to consume milk for heartburn – the high-fat content of milk ultimately results in heartburn once digested. This problem can be avoided by consuming low-fat milk.

You may try different home remedies to see which foods are working for you. Adding those foods may help you overcome GERD symptoms, but if you have persistent issues, you should contact your doctor right away.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may perform a physical examination and ask you about the symptoms and history of your gastrointestinal problems. He may conduct the following tests to diagnose GERD:

Ambulatory acid probe test

This test is performed to check the acidity level of the esophagus. A long thin tube is inserted into the esophagus through your nose. The tip has sensors to sense the acidity. There is a portable computer that an individual wears around his waist or shoulders.

This method is one of the best and basic methods to diagnose GERD.

Upper endoscopy

A small bit of tissue from the esophagus or stomach is retrieved with the use of a tube with a camera attached to its tip. This test is also used to check the inflammation in the esophagus and stomach. It also helps in identifying other complications. 

Esophogram

This method involves X-ray imaging of the upper digestive tract of the patients. Here a person drinks barium solution, and after that X-ray is performed.

Esophageal pH monitoring

This test is conducted to check how often and how much stomach acid enters your esophagus.

Esophageal manometry

A tiny tube is put through your nose to assess the coordination and strength of the muscles in your esophagus. It is esophageal manometry.

Causes of GERD

There are sphincter muscles present at the junction of the esophagus and stomach. These muscles relax and contract to perform their functions. When these muscles work properly: no acid reflux occurs. However, when these muscles get weak, the content of the stomach flows back to the food pipe. The other possible causes of GERD include:

Acid reflux

The main culprit behind GERD is acid reflux. If acid reflux occurs occasionally, it can be treated at home by adopting various lifestyle changes. If acid reflux occurs two to three times a week – this condition needs to be monitored. Talk to your doctor and get proper treatment for GERD.

Eating too much

Eating habits may trigger acid reflux. Frequently eating 5-6 large meals causes the expansion of the stomach. It put pressure on the lower sphincter muscles. As a result, these muscles do not close properly, and stomach acid flows backward.

Hiatal hernia

It is a condition when your stomach moves slightly upward towards the chest region. It weakens the lower sphincter muscles to perform their job. As a result, the sphincter does not close properly.

Are GERD and heartburn the same?

Some people think that GERD and heartburn are the same. One thing that is important to note here is that these two are different. Heartburn is not a serious condition. It can be treated at home with various remedies.

However, if your heartburn gets prolonged and accompanied by cough or chest pain – you need to immediately see your doctor. Experiencing heartburn thrice a week may lead you to GERD.

Risk factors

Following factors increase the chances of GERD in you:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Scleroderma – a disorder of connective tissues
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Delayed emptying of the stomach
  • Smoking
  • Eating large meals
  • Late-night snacking 
  • Eating oily, spicy, and tangy foods
  • Lying down just after eating
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages
  • Taking certain medications

Complications caused by GERD

In most cases, GERD is not an issue. It can be cured at home with certain medications. However, prolonged and chronic GERD may lead to several complications like:

Esophagitis

It is an inflammation of the esophagus lining. It must be treated properly, otherwise, it causes difficulty in swallowing and leads to ulcers. 

Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is a permanent change in the lining of your esophagus. The lining of the esophagus is monitored by performing endoscopies. Damaged tissues are removed with surgery. 

Esophageal stricture

It is the tightening or narrowing down of the food pipe or esophagus. The development of stricture narrows down the tube and makes it difficult for food to travel down the pipe. 

Esophageal ulcer

It is a type of peptic ulcer that causes soreness at the lower part of the esophagus at the junction of the stomach and esophagus. It causes severe pain and a burning sensation. This ulcer may bleed and makes swallowing difficult. 

Esophageal cancer

It affects only a small portion of people with Barrett’s esophagus. Malignant or cancer cells are formed in the tissues of the esophagus. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at greater risk of developing this cancer. Difficulty in swallowing and sudden weight loss are among the common symptoms of esophageal cancer.

If your symptoms are getting prolonged, you must take steps to treat GERD. It will prevent you from complications.

When to see a doctor

Heartburn is common, and it can be treated at home. Different home remedies or medications may relieve the symptoms of heartburn. If the problem continues or heartburn occurs more than three times a week – you must consult your doctor. Immediately see your doctor if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Arm pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Burning sensation in stomach and esophagus
  • Irritation inside mouth
  • Prolonged symptoms of GERD
  • Or taking medications of heartburn for more than twice a week

Summary

Heartburn is a common condition that most people face. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and certain medications may result in GERD. Adopting a few lifestyle changes like eating small meals, exercising, avoiding lying down after eating, and home remedies may prevent heartburn.

If you face a heartburn condition more than twice o thrice a week – you must visit your doctor. Once you are diagnosed with GERD, your doctor may prescribe you certain medications.

In severe conditions, surgery is recommended to avoid the backflow of acid into the esophagus or to tighten the muscles. Do not ignore the heartburn. If it continues, talk to your doctor.

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