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GERD and Acid Refluxꟷ What You Need to Know
Acid reflux occurs when your stomach contents move back up the esophagus. It is also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux or acid regurgitation.
If you’ve been experiencing acid reflux symptoms for over two weeks, you may be suffering from a condition known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Data from the NIDDK or the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reveal that about 20% of Americans suffer from the condition. Leaving the condition untreated can lead to serious health complications.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common symptoms of GERD?
Due to the gastroesophageal moving back up the esophagus, acid reflux can be quite uncomfortable. People suffering from this symptom will usually feel an uncomfortable feeling radiating in the chest. The burning feeling then usually creeps up towards the neck. This is also referred to as heartburn.
People suffering from acid reflux usually regurgitate liquid or food from the stomach into the mouth, leaving a bitter or sour taste in the process. Some also have a hard time swallowing. In some cases, the condition can lead to breathing problems like asthma or chronic cough.
What are the causes of GERD?
At the end of the esophagus is a circular muscle band known as the LES or lower esophageal sphincter. When functioning properly, the LES relaxes and then opens every time you swallow liquid or food. After that, it closes and tightens again.
With acid reflux, the LES fails to close and tighten properly. This leads to the gastric juices and other contents on the stomach to move back up the esophagus, causing that uncomfortable, burning feeling.
What are my treatment options for GERD?
Most doctors would encourage incorporating changes to your eating behaviors and habits when relieving and preventing GERD symptoms.
Over-the-counter medications may also be suggested. These include:
- Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs
- H2 receptor blockers
There are also instances when they may choose to prescribe more potent PPIs or H2 receptor blockers. If GERD isn’t responding to treatments or is severe, undergoing a surgery may be the best option.
Some of the medications that GERD patients can get access to are also known to cause certain side effects. Getting your doctor’s advice on what to take is always essential.
Not all GERD sufferers are able to get the symptoms alleviated via medications or lifestyle changes alone. There are instances when surgery is required.
If your doctor has already recommended you to take certain medications or introduce changes to your lifestyle but the symptoms haven’t alleviated, he might suggest that you go through an operation to address the problem. If your GERD symptoms have escalated into more severe ones, then surgery will usually be considered a recourse.
Different types of surgeries are available for treating GERD. Your doctor will be able to walk you through each of these procedures to determine which would best suit you.
How is GERD diagnosed?
How is GERD diagnosed?
If the symptoms you’re experiencing are consistent with people suffering from GERD, your doctor will carry out a physical exam. Whatever symptoms you are experiencing will be noted. In addition, the following procedures may be conducted to zero in on a diagnosis as well as check if you are not experiencing any GERD complications.
- Upper endoscopy. A tube equipped with a tiny camera at the tip will be threaded into the esophagus. This allows the doctor to collect sample tissues as well as examine the esophagus to come up with a diagnosis.
- Barium swallow. This involves drinking a barium solution. You’ll then go through X-ray imaging to get a better look at the current state of your esophagus.
- Esophageal pH monitoring. This involves inserting a monitor into the esophagus to help determine if stomach acid enters it and when.
- Esophageal manometry. This involves threading a flexible tube into the esophagus. This then gages how strong your esophageal muscles are.
GERD in infants
Around two in every three 4-month-old babies suffer from GERD symptoms. One in every ten 1-year-olds are also affected by it.
Spitting up and vomiting food every once in a while, are considered normal for babies. However, if your baby seems to do so frequently, there is a good chance that they suffer from GERD.
Other symptoms and signs to look out for if you suspect your infant suffers from GERD are:
- Trouble swallowing
- Refusal to eat
- Choking or gagging
- Being irritable during feeding time
- hiccups or wet burps
- Poor growth or weight loss
- Arching the back during feeding or after
- Sleeping difficulty
- Pneumonia or recurring cough
It’s important to note that many of the symptoms mentioned above are also quite common among babies suffering from Tongue-tie. This condition makes it difficult for them to consume food.
If you believe that your baby may be suffering from GERD or any other health issue, make it a point to secure a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
What are the most common GERD risk factors?
The chances of you developing GERD can be further exacerbated by certain conditions. Among these are:
- Connective tissue disorders
- Hiatal hernia
Your lifestyle may further increase the risk of you developing GERD. This includes:
- Consuming large meals
- Going to sleep or lying down immediately after having a meal
- Drinking certain beverages such as alcohol, coffee or soda
- Eating certain food types such as spicy or deep-fried food
- Using NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including ibuprofen and aspirin
If you happen to have any of these potential risks, it wouldn’t hurt to take steps to modify them to manage, if not fully prevent GERD.
Want to Know More About GERD?
Most people that suffer from GERD don’t have any complications. There are rare cases, however, where serious and even life-threatening health issues arise due to the condition.
Among the potential GERD complications are:
- Esophageal stricture. This happens when the esophagus tightens or narrows.
- Esophagitis. This condition causes the esophagus to get inflamed.
- Esophageal cancer. This usually affects a small number of people suffering from Barrett’s esophagus.
- Barrett’s esophagus. This involves permanent changes to the esophageal lining.
- Gum diseases, erosion of tooth enamel and a slew of other dental issues.
- Chronic cough, asthma or breathing problems which could develop due to the stomach acid being breathed into the lungs.
To lower the possibility of complications, it helps to proactively take steps in preventing and treating GERD symptoms.
Consumption of certain beverages and food can trigger GERD symptoms in some people. Among the most common dietary GERD triggers are:
- Spicy foods
- High-fat foods
- Citrus fruits
Dietary triggers do tend to vary from person to person.
Incorporating a number of lifestyle changes as well as home remedies may help alleviate some of the most common GERD symptoms.
People suffering from the symptom often find it helpful to:
- Lose some excess weight
- Quit smoking
- Chew gum after every meal
- Eat smaller meal portions
- Practice relaxation technique
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes
- Avoid drinks and food that can trigger GERD symptoms
- Not lie down immediately after a meal
Certain herbal remedies may also relieve GERD symptoms. Among the most common herbs that are used to relieve GERD are:
- Licorice root
- Slippery elm
- Marshmallow root
There are people who claim to have experienced relief after taking certain teas, tinctures or supplements that feature these herbs as the main ingredients. However, more research is needed to prove that this is indeed the case.
It is important to be careful when implementing these home remedies as they may sometimes interfere with certain drugs or medications as well as cause side effects.
A 2015 research revealed that GERD symptoms can be made worse by anxiety.
If you suffer from anxiety and you suspect that it may be causing your GERD symptoms to worsen, it wouldn’t hurt to speak with your doctor about it to come up with better strategies on how to relieve it.
There are some things you can do which might help keep your anxiety levels down. Among these are:
- Practicing relaxation techniques. This includes deep breathing exercises and meditation.
- Limiting your exposure to places, people and experiences that trigger your anxiety.
- Adjusting your exercise routine, sleep habits and lifestyle behaviors.
If your doctor has reason to believe that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, he will likely get you referred to a professional mental health expert. This is to ensure that you get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Treatments you may get for addressing your anxiety include talk therapy, medication or a combination of both.
Pregnant women are more likely to suffer from acid reflux. If you’re already suffering from GERD symptoms prior to the pregnancy, chances are, your symptoms will likely worsen.
The changes your hormones undergo when bearing a child cause the esophageal muscles to frequently relax. The presence of a growing fetus inside you can also increase the pressure on your stomach, which increases the possibility of digestive acid entering the esophagus.
Thankfully, there’s a wide range of safe medications that pregnant women can take if they are suffering from acid reflux. There are instances, however, when your doctor might recommend against certain treatments or antacids. So, referring to your doctor to determine your best course of action is always crucial.
According to reports, about three-quarters of people suffering from asthma also suffer from GERD symptoms.
A more in-depth look is still needed, however, to determine the link between GERD and asthma. There’s a possibility that GERD may exacerbate asthma symptoms. However, there is also the possibility of asthma and certain asthma medications increasing the risks of developing GERD.
If you happen to have GERD and asthma, it’s crucial that both conditions are managed properly.
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a condition considerably affecting the large intestine. Among the most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain
Recent data showed that people suffering from IBS are most likely to experience GERD-related symptoms compared to the rest of the population.
If you suffer from both GERD and IBS, it is important to see your doctor. They may suggest changing your diet and medications as well as incorporate other treatments to manage both conditions more effectively.
In some people who suffer from GERD, certain beverages and foods can worsen the symptoms. These dietary triggers usually include alcoholic drinks.
Depending on your specific GERD trigger, you may still be able to consume alcohol but in limited amounts. However, there are people that experience GERD symptoms even just by consuming alcohol in small amounts.
In addition, combining alcohol with fruit juices or various other types of mixers, the mixers might also cause GERD symptoms to be triggered.
Heartburn is generally a symptom of acid reflux. Most people may experience it every now and then. Occasional heartburn shouldn’t be cause for concern in general. However, if you seem to experience heartburn more than a couple of times a week, there is a very good chance you may be suffering from GERD.
To differentiate acid reflux and GERD, the latter is a chronic type of the former and if left untreated, may cause serious complications.