Alternative NamesGastroesophageal reflux disease, Acid reflux, Acid regurgitation, Acid indigestion, Heartburn
What is GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic disease that affects your digestive system. It appears when stomach acid flows back (refluxes) into your food pipe (esophagus) irritating the lining of your esophagus.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of GERD are:
- A burning feeling in the chest that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours
- Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down or eating
- Burning in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
The possible complications of GERD include the following:
- Narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture). Damage to cells in the lower esophagus due to acid exposure result in the formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue narrows the food pathway that caused difficulty swallowing.
- An open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). Stomach acid can severely damage tissues in the esophagus forming an open sore.
- Precancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus).In Barrett's esophagus, the color and composition of the tissue lining the lower esophagus change that can lead to cancer.
The main cause of GERD is frequent acid reflux (the backup of bile into the esophagus).
Swallowing occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus) relaxes in order to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then it closes again.
But if the valve works abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus, causing frequent heartburn. It irritates the lining of your esophagus making it to become inflamed (esophagitis). This inflammation can damage the esophagus and caused such complications as bleeding or problems with breath.
You may prevent GERD by changing your way of life. You should avoid fatty foods, mints, chocolates, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeinated beverages (coffee or cola), because they decrease the amount of acid reflux. Some products such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and juices, spicy foods and tomato sauce irritate the lining of your esophagus and worsen the effects of GERD.
Quit smoking, wearing loose clothing, eating smaller meals, not lying down for at least 3 hours after eating and losing weight if you want to decrease reflux. In some cases people prevent symptoms of reflux at night by raising the head of their bed with 6-inch blocks or by sleeping on a special wedge-shaped pillow.
Certain medicines such as birth control pills and drugs for osteoporosis can cause reflux and heartburn as a side effect. You should discuss the safeness of the medicines you are taking with your doctor.
Certain types of prescription medicines exist to treat GERD. In most cases, combination of 2 or more medicines is used for GERD treatment determined by your doctor.
Medicines work to neutralize or weaken stomach acid. You should take these antacids only when you need to them according to your doctor’s advice.
Some medicines may cause side effects such as constipation or diarrhea. You should inform your doctor if you have high blood pressure, because antacids can be high in sodium.
If antacids do not help you, your doctor may advise you stronger medicines known as H-2 blockers. They suppress most of the stomach’s acid production.