GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a chronic condition in which stomach acid is able to move up from the stomach into the esophagus causing burning and discomfort in the chest or throat. These symptoms are commonly called heartburn or acid reflux but doctors will use the term Gastroesophageal reflux disease when symptoms occur often (twice a week or more).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs because stomach acid gets past the normal closing at the top of the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. This failure of proper LES function has many different causes such as medications, obesity, pregnancy, smoking and certain medical conditions such as a hiatal hernia.
According to most GERD information available, chronic acid reflux can lead to damage to the esophageal lining although this seems to be very rare. Some of the medications known for causing or worsening GERD (by relaxing the LES) include: prednisolone, bronchodilators, beta blockers, some sedatives, tricyclic antidepressants and calcium channel blockers for high-blood pressure. GERD information connecting Gastroesophageal reflux disease with obesity shows that overweight people are 50% more likely to have GERD than those in a normal weight range and that weight-loss of approximately 20 pounds will significantly improve symptoms.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms are usually described as burning in the chest just behind the breastbone. Some experience nausea or a feeling that food is trapped in the throat. Usually symptoms are increased by bending or lying down. Other, less common, symptoms include: difficulty swallowing, coughing, hoarseness, bad breath, asthma and dental problems due to enamel erosion. GERD can damage the esophageal lining and cause inflammation called esophagitis. The following rare but serious symptoms can also occur: coughing blood, shortness of breath, frequent vomiting, loss of appetite and severe pain when swallowing. Complications from GERD can include esophageal ulcers, inflammation of the throat, larynx, lungs, sinuses and ears, Barrett's esophagus (pre-cancer) or esophageal adenocarcinoma (a very rare cancer of the esophagus).
Certain foods and beverages can trigger Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms, these include: acidic foods such as citrus fruits and juices or tomatoes and tomato sauce, spicy foods, fatty foods, and beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol. Mint is also known to worsen GERD symptoms. Avoidance of these foods and beverages is the first step in taking preventative measures. In addition to avoiding the above foods and beverages, some lifestyle changes can be effective in preventing symptoms. For example, avoid exercise, bending, or lying down with a full stomach. Sleep on your left side or with the upper body raised: use a wedge, not just pillows, to prevent neck strain. Do not wear tight fitting clothing or belts around the waist. Do not smoke or overeat. Lose weight (if you are overweight) and eat smaller meals. If possible, reduce stress: try yoga, meditation or other stress reduction techniques.
Based on most GERD Information available, treatment options for Gastroesophageal reflux disease include both over-the-counter and prescription medications. There are many over-the-counter antacids which work by neutralizing the acid in the stomach. The effects are immediate but generally short-term. Acid-reducers work by reducing the amount of acid the stomach produces; there are two main types of acid-reducers: H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Acid-reducers generally take longer to provide relief but will last much longer than antacids. Long-term use of antacids or acid-reducers to treat GERD can lead to side effects.
Most GERD information warns that reduction of stomach acid will ultimately lead to the inability to properly absorb certain nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, folic-acid, and vitamins. H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors also come in prescription strength. Another type of prescription medication available is the Promotility agent. Promotility agents work by strengthening the LES and reducing the amount of acid reflux into the esophagus. However, side effects of Promotility agents can be serious and include severe diarrhea or constipation, fatigue and an irregular heartbeat. Your doctor can provide the best GERD information and options for you. In most cases, lifestyle changes and medication are enough to keep symptoms under control. In severe cases, however, surgery may become necessary. Detailed historical GERD information is vital for correct diagnosis in such cases.