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Acid Reflux (GERD) - Facts & Treatment Options
Acid reflux, also known as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is a chronic, often life-long condition where liquids and acids from the stomach regurgitate into the esophagus. These liquids can inflame the esophageal lining and in a minority of patients causes damage.
It's estimated that 5 to 7 percent of the global population, including infants & children suffer from GERD and it is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are either too mild to warrant a doctor's visit or downplayed and misunderstood.
What causes GERD?
Usually GERD is caused by a faulty sphincter. The esophageal sphincter is a little muscular ring at the end of the esophagus and is designed to prevent stomach contents from "backing up". Sometimes this sphincter becomes weak and stops functioning properly, allowing stomach acids to push up through the opening into the esophagus. In other cases, GERD is caused by a hiatus hernia, where the stomach pokes through the diaphragm, preventing the esophagus from closing. There are also certain health conditions where a higher incidence of GERD occurs, such as in those with asthma and diabetes.
What are The Symptoms of GERD?
- A painful burning in the abdomen and/or chest. Sometimes this pain will radiate through your back.
- Excessive belching and persistent heartburn.
- Feeling a sudden surge (spitting up) of acids spill into the back of your throat and mouth. It usually tastes very sour and burns.
- People with severe acid reflux can experience breathing problems and hoarseness due to damage to the respiratory tract and larynx.
- Consistently waking up with pain in the abdomen and/or chest. This can feel like a single painful cramp in the pit of your stomach and usually goes away within an hour or so.
- Symptoms may be triggered after eating a large meal, fatty foods, and alcohol. Smoking can cause symptoms as well.
- Bending over and feeling a sensation of sour fluids spilling into your throat.
- Over time and without treatment, GERD can cause scar tissue to form, making it difficult to swallow. At this stage, seeking medical intervention is needed.
How is GERD diagnosed?
Most doctors will be able to diagnose the condition based on the symptoms you report, but if there is any doubt, a gastroscopy can provide a better idea of what is causing your symptoms. Your doctor may want to rule out conditions with similar symptoms - such as peptic ulcers, angina, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, gallstones, and pancreatic disease.
What are the treatment options for GERD?
The first step in treating GERD is to adjust your habits. Stop smoking, avoid meals that trigger symptoms, and limit coffee and alcohol intake. If you have problems with GERD symptoms in the morning because of lying flat all night, try elevating your upper body 8 inches so that you are sleeping on an angle, allowing gravity to minimize the amount of stomach acids settling in your esophagus while you sleep.
Even when taking good care of yourself, you might need to take extra measures to keep GERD under control. Most non-prescription antacids work well in controlling symptoms, however if they simply aren't working, then a trip to the doctor is in order.
Prescription treatments may include:
- Histamine-2 (H2) Blockers such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac
As with everything, what works for one person may not work for you. It is important to discuss your condition with your doctor and evaluate the side effects before diagnosing yourself and taking any medication or treatment, whether prescribed or over the counter. This article does not substitute a medical professional's advice and is not intended as such.
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