Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a common digestive medical condition affecting millions of American adults, children, and infants in the United States and left untreated over time, can have serious consequences for the sufferer. Many believe the condition is simple heartburn, and though while heartburn is a symptom of the disease, the reflux aspect of the condition, including causes and effects makes GERD a condition that shouldn't be ignored. Gastroesophageal Reflux becomes Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (when attacks grow beyond twice a week and persist.
GERD is a more serious form of GER as symptoms are experienced on a fairly regular, often daily basis. For individuals with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease changes in lifestyle and diet combined with over-the-counter medications only offer a temporary solution. Symptoms surpass those of occasional heartburn and reflux, and since tissues lining the esophagus are easily damaged the chronic nature of the condition requires a higher level of clinical intervention which may include medications, or even surgery in severe cases. Depending on the causes, a combination of treatments may be utilized by physicians.
Gastroesphageal Reflux Disease Symptoms
Uncomplicated symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease include nausea and heartburn, the feeling of a lump in the throat accompanied by hoarseness and sore throat, pain in the chest and regurgitation. Complicated symptoms may range from chronic esophageal inflammation (esophagitis), which causes esophageal stricture as a result of accumulating scar tissue over food pathways, esophageal ulcers due to acid erosion of sensitive tissues and/or accumulation of fluid in the middle ear and sinus cavity. In addition, dry cough or asthma may be present as well as the collection of fluid in the lungs that may lead to lung infections. A low-risk though potential complication is Barrett's Esophagus which is indicated by pre-cancerous changes in color and composition of lower esophageal tissue. Individuals suspected of having Barrett's likely require regular endoscopic monitoring by a physician.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Causes
Typically, once food or liquid passes through the digestive system, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) acts as a muscular ring opening to admit food, liquid and saliva into the stomach and closes after a few moments to keep stomach contents from flowing back up into the esophagus. In GERD, the LES is relaxed and no longer able to properly contain food, liquid and stomach acids within the stomach. When the LES becomes too relaxed over time, the esophagus is at an increased risk of damage from the reflux, as its lining is damaged much more easily than that of the stomach. LES dysfunction serves as one of the abnormalities often found in GERD sufferers. GERD causes resulting from weak or transient LES function are discovered in infants, children and adults with GERD with symptoms closely following the ingestion of food or liquid when the abdomen becomes distended. Reflux symptoms often occur after meals and may be a result of sluggish emptying of the stomach, causing stomach distention for prolonged periods or as a result of defects in esophageal muscles making contractions too weak to push acids back into the stomach. Hiatal hernia is among GERD causes as well, though not all Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease patients present with hiatal hernia. A small portion of the stomach and LES attached to the esophagus pushes up to the diaphragm in cases of hiatal hernia, causing it to reside in the lower chest. When this occurs, the LES is above the hernia and diaphragm below, so both components while still working, are exerting pressure from different areas, causing reflux to occur much more easily. GERD causes from hiatal hernia involve dysfunction of both the LES and diaphragm.
Additional GERD causes can include food triggers in the form of caffeine, consumption of high fat and/or fried food, citrus fruits and juices, chocolate, mint, spicy foods, garlic and onions as well as acidic tomato-based meals. Other, more biologically based GERD causes like asthma, diabetes and esophageal abnormalities may contribute to GERD as well as certain types of prescription drugs like the beta adrenergic agents used in treatment of asthma and obstructive lung diseases. Antibiotics, iron supplements, potassium, dopamine, drugs utilized in treatment of osteoporosis, and calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and angina are additionally implicated. Alcohol, weight and smoking as well as pregnancy and hormones may be contributors to GERD causes and can be discussed with a physician.