Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is an unpleasant condition that occurs as heartburn, swallowing difficulty, regurgitation, and other physical complications. This condition occurs when our stomach acid continuously flows back into the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. GERD is a widely spread health condition that affects approximately one out of every five people in the western world.
People with severe asthma symptoms are more likely to experience this disease. Asthma flare-ups can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax and let stomach contents flow back. Certain asthma medicines, both OTC and prescription, can worsen reflux symptoms.
At the same time, acid reflux can worsen asthma symptoms by irritating the lungs and airways. This unnecessary irritation can trigger an allergic reaction and make your airways more sensitive to environmental conditions like cold air or smoke.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
GERD is a condition that affects everyone at least once in their life. It occurs when you burp, has an acidic taste in your mouth, or feel heartburn. However, if GERD symptoms interfere with your daily activities, it is time to see a doctor.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms may include;
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing, bad breath, laryngitis, or hoarseness
- Acid regurgitation, chronic sore throat, sudden excess of saliva, cavities
- Inflammation of the gums, chest pain, and chronic cough
Diagnosis - Several tests may be considered to diagnose GERD, including:
- X-ray of the upper digestive system
- Ambulatory acid or pH test
- Endoscopy to check the inner side of the esophagus
- Esophageal impedance test
Causes of Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Frequent acid reflux causes this condition. When you swallow something, a circular band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow into the stomach. Then the sphincter closes again.
If the sphincter weakens or relaxes abnormally, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus. This frequent backwash of acid irritates the esophagus lining and sometimes causes it to be inflamed.
Conditions that can trigger the symptoms of GERD;
- Obesity, pregnancy, delayed stomach emptying
- Connective tissue disorder and bulging of the top of the stomach
Factors that can irritate acid reflux
- Eating late at night or large meals
- Drinking certain beverages like coffee or alcohol
- Taking medicines like aspirin
Complications that gastroesophageal reflux disease
Over time, long-term inflammation in your esophagus can result in;
An open sore in the esophagus: Stomach acid can flow away tissue and lead to an esophageal ulcer. This ulcer can cause pain, bleeding and difficulty swallowing.
Narrowing the esophagus: Damage to the lower esophagus from stomach acid can cause scar tissue to form. The scar tissue can narrow the food pathway and result in problems with swallowing.
Precancerous changes to the esophagus: Damage from acid flows can cause changes in the tissue lining, associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
Treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease
A doctor can recommend you try some lifestyle changes and OTC medicines to manage mild symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. If OTC medicines and lifestyle changes are not adequate, they may ask you for prescription drugs or surgery.
Treatment with over-the-counter medications;
Antacids that neutralize stomach acid: Antacids like Rolaids, Mylanta, and Tums may provide quick relief. But these medications alone cannot heal the condition. At the same time, over or misuse of Antacids can result in some mild to severe side effects like diarrhea or sometimes kidney problems.
Medications to reduce acid production: H-2-receptor blockers like famotidine or cimetidine can help reduce acid production in the body. These drugs do not work as quickly as antacids, but they provide long-lasting relief. H-2-receptor blockers decrease acid production from the stomach for up to 12 hours.
Medications that block acid production and heal the esophagus: These drugs have more potential than acid blockers and H-2-receptor blockers. These medications may include omeprazole, lansoprazole, etc.
Treatment with prescription drugs;
Prescription medications for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease may include;
Prescription-based H-2-receptor blockers: These prescription medications may include famotidine and nizatidine. These prescriptions are generally well-tolerated and beneficial against GERD. Long-term use of these drugs can increase the risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency and sometimes bone fractures.
Prescription-based proton pump inhibitors: These drugs may include lansoprazole, esomeprazole, omeprazole, pantoprazole, etc. These drugs are also safe to use in the treatment of GERD. But can cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea, headache, and vitamin B-12 deficiency. Also, long-term use of this medication can increase the risk of hip fracture.
Drugs to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter: Medications like baclofen may ease GERD by reducing the frequency of relaxations of the lower esophageal sphincter. Its side effects may include nausea and fatigue.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Following lifestyle changes and home remedies can help you in the management of GERD;
Maintain a healthy weight: Excess pounds can pressure your abdomen and cause acid to reflux into your esophagus.
Elevate the head of your bed: If you experience heartburn while trying to sleep, place cement or wood blocks under the feet of your bed to raise your head side by 6 to 9 inches. If it is not possible to elevate your bed, you should insert a wedge between the box spring and the mattress.
Stop smoking: Smoking can decrease the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to act appropriately.
Eat and chew food properly: It is always crucial to eat food properly. You should put down your fork after taking a bite and take another after chewing and swallowing the first one properly.
Avoid foods and drinks that trigger reflux: You should avoid eating fatty or fried foods, alcohol, tomato sauce, mint, garlic, caffeine, onion, etc. These foods can trigger GERD.
Conclusion: GERD is a treatable condition that you can manage even without taking medicine. Most medications used to treat GERD have mild to severe side effects. Therefore, you should always take the medication with care.
This information is only intended for educational purposes; please do not use it as a medical alternative. Instead, consult with your doctor if you experience any symptoms of GERD.