Acid Reflux and GERD

Overview

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease – or GERD – are two related diseases in which patients experience heartburn, regurgitation of food and damage to the lining of the esophagus over time. This disorder can have several causes and affect patients of any age. Patients can control many of the risk factors for acid reflux or GERD through simple lifestyle changes. Treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription medications or – in severe cases – surgery.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common symptoms of acid reflux include a burning sensation in the chest or throat – known as heartburn – a sore throat or lump in the throat, regurgitation of food or stomach acid, coughing and problems swallowing. These symptoms are uncomfortable and often occur after a meal or at night. Heavy or fatty meals are more likely to produce these symptoms.

When a doctor suspects acid reflux or GERD, doctor and patient will discuss symptoms and medical history. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and one or more tests. Procedures such as x-rays of the upper chest and throat and endoscopy allow doctors to check the condition of the esophagus for signs of acid reflux or GERD.

Causes

The cause of acid reflux and GERD is dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. This dysfunction can have many origins. In some cases, it is simply caused by stomach distention. Overeating causes stomach distention and stretches the sphincter so that it cannot close completely resulting in acid reflux. Loose muscle control allows the sphincter to stay open or open at the wrong time. This allows a backwash of undigested food and stomach acid into the esophagus. A hiatial hernia, when present, can prevent the esophageal sphincter from closing completely. Certain conditions such as pregnancy, asthma and diabetes are also associated with increased instances of acid reflux and GERD. Continue for Prevention information . . .

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