Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents enter into the esophagus. This can cause a burning feeling in the chest known as heartburn or a bitter taste in the mouth. You may also regurgitate food or liquid. If this occurs more than twice a week, you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Affecting about twenty percent of people in the United States, GERD can cause serious complications if left untreated. GERD can cause difficulty swallowing, or lead to problems like chronic cough or asthma.
What causes GERD?
GERD is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter either does not tighten or close properly, allowing stomach contents to enter the esophagus. Complications of GERD can lead to esophagitis, esophageal stricture, asthma or other breathing problems, Barret’s esophagus, or esophageal cancer. You may be at higher risk of developing GERD if you are obese, pregnant, or have a hiatal hernia or connective tissue disorder. Certain behaviors can also influence GERD such as smoking, using NSAIDs, eating spicy or fried foods, drinking beverages like soda, coffee, and alcohol, eating large meals, or lying down shortly after eating.
What are the treatment options for GERD?
In order to diagnose GERD, a doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms. There are several different procedures that can be used to help confirm a GERD diagnosis. A barium swallow can be used to examine the upper digestive tract via x-ray after ingesting a barium solution. An upper endoscopy can be performed, during which a tiny camera can be used to examine the esophagus and a biopsy can be collected. An esophageal manometry may also be recommended. During this procedure, a flexible tube is threaded into the esophagus to determine the strength of the esophageal muscles. An esophageal pH monitoring can also be ordered to establish whether or not stomach acid has entered the esophagus.
Treatment options for GERD can be surgical or nonsurgical. Nonsurgical treatment options include antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H2 receptor blockers. If GERD does not respond to treatment or other lifestyle modifications, you may require surgery. Surgery is usually considered for cases that do not respond to medications and where stomach acid is causing inflammation in the esophagus leading to bleeding and ulcers. Possible surgical options include Fundoplication, Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication, a Stretta Procedure, a Bard EndoCinch System, or Linx Surgery. Recovery time can vary based on the type of surgery.
Talk to your doctor about lifestyle modifications, diet, and treatment options for GERD. Treating GERD can help you avoid long term health complications in the future as well as improve your digestive health!