Over 60 million adults experience heartburn at least once a month, and more than 15 million face it daily. GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is a digestive disorder where stomach acid regularly flows back into the mouth through the esophagus. This condition can cause various symptoms such as heartburn, acid indigestion and difficulty swallowing. GERD can significantly affect a person’s quality of life if left untreated. We will help educate you on symptoms, and treatments of GERD to help you better understand this condition and how to manage it effectively.
Who gets GERD?
Approximately 20% of the U.S. population experiences GERD. It can develop in individuals of any age, but the risk of having some form of GERD, whether mild or severe, tends to increase after age 40.
Certain factors can make a person more prone to GERD. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke (Cleveland Clinic)
What are the Symptoms?
The primary and most common symptom is heartburn, which manifests as a burning sensation starting from the chest and rising toward the neck and throat. Some may perceive it as food returning to the mouth, accompanied by an unpleasant acidic or bitter taste. It is crucial to differentiate between heartburn and heart disease or a heart attack, as they have distinguishing characteristics.
Heart disease pain typically worsens with physical exertion. It improves with rest, while heartburn pain is less likely to be triggered by physical activity. If you experience any chest pain, it is recommended to seek immediate medical assistance to ensure proper evaluation.
In addition to pain, GERD can manifest through various other symptoms, including:
- Unpleasant breath odor
- Difficulty breathing
- Swallowing difficulties
- Erosion of tooth enamel
- A sensation of a lump in the throat
For those who experience acid reflux at night, they may also encounter:
- Persistent cough
- Hoarseness (laryngitis)
- Sudden or aggravated asthma symptoms
- Disrupted sleep patterns
How to Treat GERD?
The treatment of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) usually involves a combination of lifestyle modifications, medications, and in some cases, surgical interventions.
Here are the common approaches to treating GERD:
Making certain adjustments to your daily habits can help manage GERD symptoms.
- Avoiding trigger foods and beverages that can worsen reflux, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, fatty foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding large meals.
- Not lying down or going to bed immediately after eating. Wait at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down.
- Elevate the head of your bed by about 6 to 8 inches to prevent acid reflux during sleep.
- Losing weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Quitting smoking, as smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to reduce acid production, strengthen the LES, or alleviate symptoms. These may include:
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These drugs reduce the production of stomach acid and can provide long-term relief.
- H2 receptor blockers: These medications reduce stomach acid production but are less potent than PPIs.
- Antacids: Over-the-counter antacids can provide short-term relief by neutralizing stomach acid.
- Prokinetics: These medications help improve food movement through the digestive tract, reducing reflux.
In more severe cases of GERD that don’t improve with lifestyle changes and medications, surgery may be an option. The most common surgical procedure for GERD is called fundoplication. During this procedure, the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to reinforce it and prevent acid reflux. (WebMD)
If you suspect you have GERD, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan. With the right care and management, it is possible to have and improved quality of life with GERD.
professional, Cleveland Clinic medical. “Gerd (Chronic Acid Reflux): Symptoms, Treatment, & Causes.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17019-gerd-or-acid-reflux-or-heartburn-overview#:~:text=Anyone%20of%20any%20age%20can,Have%20overweight%2Fobesity.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) | Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd#:~:text=Gastroesophageal%20reflux%20disease%20(GERD)%20is,esophagus%2C%20pharynx%20or%20respiratory%20tract.
WebMD. “Gerd: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Remedies for Relief.” WebMD, www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/reflux-disease-gerd-1.