Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, is a digestive disease that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). LES is a ring of muscle found between the stomach and the esophagus. Under normal circumstances, the LES relaxes and opens every time you swallow, and afterward, it tightens and closes. If your LES does not tighten and close properly after you swallow, you will experience contents from your stomach moving back up to the esophagus.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, is a digestive disease that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). LES is a ring of muscle found between the stomach and the esophagus.
Under normal circumstances, the LES relaxes and opens every time you swallow, and afterward, it tightens and closes. If your LES does not tighten and close properly after you swallow, you will experience contents from your stomach moving back up to the esophagus.
Those contents could be food and digestive juices. That condition is called acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux, or acid regulation and is what causes GERD. If left untreated, GERD could lead to more serious complications.
Some risk factors that may increase your chances of getting GERD include pregnancy, obesity, connective tissue disorder, and hiatal hernia.
• Heartburn or acid indigestion- This is a burning sensation or discomfort that runs from your stomach to your esophagus and throat or your abdomen. Heartburns get worse after you eat and may be triggered when you bend or lie down.
• Regurgitation- happens when a bitter or sour-tasting liquid or food particles back up in your mouth and leave a bitter acid taste.
• Problem swallowing.
• Nausea and vomiting.
• Feeling a lump in your throat.
GERD does not only happen in adults. Around two-thirds of babies around four months show signs of GERD, and around 10% of 1-year-olds are affected by it. Sometimes, it is normal for your child to spit up food or milk or even vomit, but if it happens regularly, your child might have GERD.
Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for in your child include;
• Refusal to eat or breastfeed. \Hiccups or wet burps.
• Arching their back after or during eating and breastfeeding.
• Irritability when eating and breastfeeding or after.
• Chocking or gagging.
• Trouble swallowing.
• Difficulty sleeping.
• Recurring pneumonia or coughs.
• Poor growth or weight loss.
Some of the ways the doctor uses to diagnose GERD include;
• X-ray of your upper digestive system also called an Upper GI series.
• Endoscopy/ examination of the inner parts of the esophagus.
• PH testing.
GERD treatments focus on reducing the reflux amounts and reducing damage to the inner lining of your esophagus. Some of the common treatments may include;
Your doctor might recommend a prescription or over-the-counter medications to help with your GERD symptoms. Some of those medications include;
• Antacids- These medications help neutralize the acid in your esophagus and stomach. That mainly helps control the severity and occurrence of heartburns. These medications deliver temporary relief. They are mainly used for mild heartburn. Overusing these drugs could cause diarrhea and vomiting.
• H2 blockers- These help reduce the levels of acid produced in your stomach. You can use them alone or together with antacids. Since they help prevent the production of acid, their results last longer than those of antacids.
• Proton pump inhibitors- Also called acid pumps, these medications block the protein required to make acid in the stomach.
• Prokinetics- Doctors rarely prescribe these medications. They help your empty your stomach faster to ensure that you do not have a lot of acids left in your stomach. They also help relieve symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and bloating.
Surgery for GERD is used as a last resort if all other ways to manage and treat it don't work. It also applies if you require high doses of Proton Pump inhibitors to control symptoms, have a hiatal hernia, and have damage to the inner lining of the esophagus even after using medication.
Some of the ways doctors perform GERD surgery include;
• Fundoplication- This procedure raises the pressure of your lower esophagus. The doctor then winds the top of the stomach around the LES. That tightens the LES helps stop reflux. The doctor does that either through open surgery or a small in your belly called a laparoscope.
• Transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF) - This is a newer form of surgery done with a small tube with a camera attached to its tip called an endoscope. The doctor uses it to wrap your stomach around your LES using plastic fasteners.
• Stretta procedure- During this procedure, the doctor, lowers a small tube down your esophagus, and using low-radiofrequency, heats that LES to reshape it.
• LINX surgery- The procedure involves the doctor wrapping a ring of magnetic titanium beads around the LES. That helps it keep it tight enough to prevent reflux but still open to let food through.
Your doctor may advise that you make a change in some of your lifestyle and diet habits that may trigger GERD. Those changes include;
• Avoid certain foods- Certain foods trigger or worsen GERD symptoms by relaxing the LES. They include chocolate, caffeine, peppermint, fatty foods, and alcoholic beverages.
Other foods may increase the damage to your esophagus lining or increase the acid in your stomach. They include citrus fruits, garlic, onion, carbonated drinks, tomato, pineapple, and pepper.
• Eat smaller food portions- Eating too much food puts a lot of pressure on the LES, which may prevent it from remaining closed after meals. That leaves room for acid and food particles to escape into the esophagus.
• Don’t go to bed immediately after eating- Doctors advise patients to go to bed around 3 hours after eating. That ensures that the stomach has had enough time to digest your food, and that reduces the chances of reflux.
• Elevate your head when you sleep- This allows gravity to reduce acid and food reflux.
• Quit smoking- Smoking weakens your LES, which makes it hard for it to remain closed after you eat.
• Thoroughly chew your food- Swallowing big chunks of food may leave your stomach so full, putting pressure on the LES. Also, chew slowly to avoid swallowing any air.
• Maintain a healthy weight- Being overweight or obese increases the chances of you getting GERD and worsens the symptoms.
• Put on loose clothes- Tight clothes squeeze your stomach and LES, which could force it to remain open.
If not treated properly, GERD could result in some serious complication like;
• Esophageal ulcer where the acid from the stomach eats away the inner lining of the esophagus until open sores form.
• Esophageal stricture, where stomach acid eats away the esophagus' lower part, causing the formation of scar tissue.
• Barrett’s esophagus where cells in the esophagus lining change due to acid reflux.