GERDs medical name is gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is a condition where the stomachs content flows back into the esophagus. The content of the stomach is acidic and irritating because of the stomach acid used for digesting food. This liquid can cause damage of the esophagus lining known as esophagitis.
GERD is unfortunately a chronic condition. Once you suffer from GERD, the treatment or lifestyle change must be continued life-long. Similarly the damage of the lining is likely to return if the treatment is stopped.
Do people without GERDs symptoms have reflux? Studies have found that reflux can happen to healthy people too, however if you suffer from GERD the refluxing liquid contains more acid, it remains longer in the esophagus and the reflux happens more often.
The most common GERDs symptom is heartburn. When stomach acid refluxes it irritates the nerves of the esophagus and causes characteristic burning pain in the middle of the chest called heartburn (although it doesn’t have anything in common with the heart). Heartburn is most common after meals when the stomach is filled and when individuals lie down when gravity doesn’t help to keep the acid inside the stomach. Unfortunately heartburn is usually a life-long condition.
Another GERDs symptom is regurgitation. Sometimes refluxed liquid doesn’t stay only in the lower esophagus, but also reaches throat and mouth. In the throat there is the upper esophageal sphincter, playing similar role to the lower esophageal sphincter and preventing the content of the esophagus to back up into the throat. If acid reflux enters into the throat, there may be an acid taste in the mouth.
Some patients may suffer from nausea and vomit. However this symptom of GERD is rather uncommon.
There are many GERDs causes. One of the causes is abnormal function of the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle closing the entrance to the stomach. If the muscle is too loose, or opens without food or saliva moving down the esophagus, acid reflux can occur.
Abnormal esophageal contractions can be also a cause of GERD. Normally the esophagus contracts pushing swallowed food down to the stomach. If any acid flows out of the stomach it is pushed back by the esophageal contraction. If the contractions are too weak or abnormal, stomach acid can remain in the esophagus causing GERD. In fact this is the most common cause of GERD, according to Medicinenet.
Acid reflux occurs mostly when stomach is filled with food. If food remains in the stomach for prolonged time, e.g. because of the abnormally slow emptying of the stomach, acid reflux is more probable.
There are many possibilities to treat GERD. The most important is changing habits, especially these related to eating. The following treatments can be applied by yourself:
Reflux can easier occur in resting position, when gravity doesn’t pull the stomach acid down. This is why a particular attention must be paid to protection against acid reflux in the night, when the body remains in laying position for prolonged time. Don’t eat before bedtime and keep a slightly elevated body position during the night, e.g. using a wedge pillow for acid reflux.
Some foods are more likely to cause heartburn than other, like chocolate, fatty foods, alcohol and drinks containing caffeine. GERD diet is a reasonable idea to avoid acid reflux by eating stomach friendly foods. Eating less and more often will lower the pressure inside the stomach after meals and cause stomach to be emptied quicker.
Smoking has been found to contribute to GERD. If you smoke and suffer from acid reflux – well, it’s one more reason to quit smoking.
Medications help to alleviate GERDs symptoms. In general there are three types of medications: antiacids, histamine antagonists and proton pump inhibitors (PPI). Antiacids neutralize already secreted stomach acid, they work quickly, but only for short time – about one hour. Histamine antagonists (called also H2 antagonists) prevent the secretion of the new acid from the stomach walls. Proton pump inhibitors also stop the acid production, however they are more effective than histamine antagonists and are used when there is an esophagus lining damage. H2 antagonists (like Pepcid) are OTC medications, PPI (like Aciphex) are prescription drugs.
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