GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) occurs when stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus. It can cause burning and pain in the chest, throat and belly. It can make you vomit, burp up food and cough. Your voice may be hoarse and you may have trouble swallowing. You can experience food sticking. And it can lead to other serious problems, including narrowing and ulcerations of the esophagus and a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Here’s more information on GERD, its causes and treatments.
What is GERD and what causes it?
GERD is the result of acid from the stomach flowing into the esophagus across the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a muscle that serves as a valve protecting the esophagus from acid exposure. A small amount of reflux is normal. GERD is usually defined as when reflux causes troublesome symptoms two or more times a week or leads to complications.
Certain conditions make GERD more likely such as a hiatal hernia, obesity, smoking and pregnancy. What you eat and drink also can trigger GERD – especially caffeine, fatty foods, chocolate, spicy foods, acidic foods and peppermint.
How common is GERD?
About 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences reflux symptoms at least weekly.
How is GERD diagnosed?
A careful medical history is usually necessary to make a diagnosis of GERD. Additional ambulatory tests commonly performed to confirm the diagnosis or evaluate for complications related to GERD include upper endoscopy, barium swallow or upper GI series (x-ray of upper GI tract), ambulatory monitoring of pH and esophageal motility testing.
Why is it important to treat GERD?
GERD can lead to narrowing of the esophagus known as strictures, ulceration of the esophagus (esophagitis), respiratory problems and a precancerous condition of the esophagus known as Barretts' esophagus.
What treatments are available?
Depending on the severity and frequency of symptoms, patients with GERD can be treated with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, and over-the-counter antacids or prescription acid-reducing medications. The most effective class is known as PPIs (proton pump inhibitors). However, long-term use of PPIs has been implicated with a possible increase in bone fractures, vitamin and mineral malabsorption and an increased risk of certain infections.
For patients whose discomfort continues despite medication and lifestyle changes, there are a number of safe, effective and minimally invasive surgical options that can provide relief – and reduce the risk of long-term health consequences related to GERD.