Facts About Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The esophagus connects the back of the mouth to the stomach. When stomach acid back up into the esophagus it will irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause other symptoms. When the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus frequently it causes mild, moderate or severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERDs).
The esophagus does not have a tough lining like the stomach. The symptoms due to GERD may be serious, particularly for senior citizens.
There is a circular band of muscle at the end of the esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter - LES) that normally relaxes to allow food and liquids to flow into the stomach. Then, the sphincter closes again.
When the sphincter relaxes in an abnormal way or if it is weakened the stomach acid can flow up into the esophagus. This constant backwash of acid is what irritates the lining of the esophagus and it may cause inflammation.
If a person experiences mild acid reflux once or twice weekly they have mild GERDs, which can be treated by over-the-counter acid reflux medications. Moderate to severe GERDs occurs more frequently and may need a stronger medication and some lifestyle changes.
The symptoms of GERDs include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Burning sensation in the throat, chest or mid-abdomen (heartburn), typically occurs after eating
- Regurgitation of food or a sour liquid
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
Other possible symptoms include:
- A chronic cough
- Disrupted sleep
- New or worsening asthma
Possible Complications of GERD
If you have GERDs over a period of time chronic inflammation may cause:
- The narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture), which is actually damage to the lower section of the esophagus near the stomach that causes the stomach acid to form scar tissue.
- The scar tissue narrows the esophagus and can lead to swallowing problems - (esophageal ulcer) when stomach acid may wear away the esophageal lining and cause an open sore to form. An esophageal ulcer can bleed and cause pain plus it also makes swallowing difficult.
- Precancerous changes may occur to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). The damage from the stomach acid may cause changes to the lining of the lower area of the esophagus. The changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
Heartburn, Acid Reflux, GERD-Mayo Clinic
Risk Factors for GERDs
Conditions increasing the risk of GERDs include:
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
- Bulging of the top of the stomach up into the diaphragm (hiatal hernia
- Hiatal hernia
Some factors that may worsen acid reflux include:
- Eating certain foods (triggers), such as fried or fatty foods
- Eating large meals or eating late at night
- Drinking some beverages, such as coffee or alcohol
- Taking certain medications that irritate the stomach, such as aspirin
What Exactly is Barett’s Esophagus?
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that Barett’s Esophagus is rare and typically occurs in men at an average age of fifty-five years of age. Having Barett’s esophagus puts you at a higher risk of developing esophagus cancer due to the esophagus lining damage. The risk factor for this disease include: obesity, smoking tobacco, and the intake of some foods that trigger the GERD symptoms.
The inflammation and irritation from stomach acid may injure the esophagus over a period of time tp cause this condition. Men who are obese are at the highest risk for developing this disorder. Bleeding may occur with this disease. Any ulcerated area in the esophagus may cause long-term and severe bleeding. Bleeding is a serious disorder and medical attention is required.
Esophageal strictures are a narrowing of the esophagus. If the esophagus becomes severely injured or inflamed due to stomach acid over time the result may be scarring and a narrow band-like stricture may be formed and they require treatment as the stricture can result in dysphagia (impaired swallowing).
When stomach acid backs up into the mouth tooth enamel can become eroded. A person who has GERD is much more likely to have inflammation in their mouth, to have tooth loss and gum disease.
Asthma often occurs in people who have GERD. The acid reflux in the esophagus may trigger an immune response that makes the airways more irritable. When small amounts of acid are in the mouth they may be inhaled into the lungs. Ultimately, an asthma flare-up may occur that is more difficult to control.
Some asthma medications relax the LES, which make the GERD symptoms worse in some people. Additionally, people with GERD are at an increased risk for other respiratory or throat conditions.
Some of those possible conditions include:
- Chronic cough
- Chronic laryngitis
- Hoarse voice and difficulty speaking
- Granulomas, with inflamed pink bumps on the vocal cords
- Aspiration pneumonia (recurs often and it is serious)
- Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a restrictive lung disease where lung scarring occurs
- Sleep disorders
- Constant throat clearing
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD): Treatments
Can the Damage be Reversed?
If you have mild symptoms the damage may be reversed by losing weight or quitting smoking, Staying upright following meals and eating smaller portions may also help reduce the symptoms.
In addition, there are some foods that can be avoided that may provide relief from this disease. Exclude these foods from the diet:
- Citrus fruits
- Colas and other carbonated beverages
- Fried or fatty food
- Tomato sauce
Milder cases of GERD may heal itself. There may be some lifestyle changes for others. Antacids may be necessary or prescriptions, such as histamine H2 receptor antagonists such as Pepcid. Prevacid or omeprazole are also commonly used.
Surgery is sometimes required and is an effective treatment for harder-to-control GERDs. If GERDs is under control there is less risk for further damage to the esophagus, teeth or throat.
GERD is a disorder that is typically curable and does not affect your lifespan. It is a treatable disease in most cases. It is important to treat this disease early so you will not have long lasting effects.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Pamela Oglesby