More Than Heartburn
Frequent heartburn may be an indication that you’ve got more than heartburn. It may be gastroesophageal reflux disease. Here’s what you need to know about GERD.
Ever lie down to go to bed and feel a burning sensation in your chest or throat? Likely the cause of your big, spicy dinner, heartburn can be an uncomfortable problem. While occasional heartburn is common and can be easily treated with over-the-counter antacids, you’ll want to make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience heartburn symptoms more than two times a week. Because it may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Could you have GERD or possibly know someone who does? Read on to learn more about its causes, symptoms, and treatment.
A Weak LES
The food you swallow goes down a tube called the esophagus and into your stomach. Between the esophagus and stomach is a band of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When food enters the stomach, the LES normally relaxes to allow food through and then closes off to keep it from heading back into the esophagus.
Sometimes, however, the LES becomes weak and fails to do its job properly. When the LES stays relaxed after allowing food to pass through, stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus and throat, resulting in GERD. This acid reflux is what causes the symptoms of GERD.
Irritation and Inflammation
The esophagus and throat are not designed to handle exposure to harsh stomach acids. When you experience reflux, the food that returns back to your esophagus has some of the stomach acid in it. This causes the lining of the esophagus to become irritated and inflamed, resulting in the symptoms of GERD.
The most common symptoms of acid indigestion include a burning or pain in the chest or throat, a bitter taste in the back of the mouth, trouble swallowing, or the feeling like there’s a lump in your throat. But every case of GERD is not created equal. Some people experience unexpected symptoms of GERD, such as frequent coughing or clearing of the throat, worsening asthma symptoms, laryngitis, or difficulty sleeping.
You may find that avoiding certain foods or behaviors help prevent symptoms of GERD. Fatty, spicy, or acidic foods are known to trigger heartburn as can chocolate, coffee, tea, onions, alcohol, peppermint, garlic, citrus, and tomatoes. Skipping these food triggers is one of the easiest ways to prevent GERD symptoms.
If GERD is affecting you, plan to eat smaller meals and don’t eat within three to four hours of lying down. You can also raise the head of your bed a few inches or use an inclined pillow to help fight GERD with the power of gravity. Wear loose-fitting clothes that aren’t tight around the waist. And finally, since obesity is a risk factor for GERD, take steps to lose weight if you’re overweight.
In the event you have frequent or severe symptoms of GERD, you’ll need medical attention. So head to your doctor for help. Acid reflux that’s left untreated can cause scar tissue in the esophagus that blocks food from passing through, form ulcers in the esophagus, or increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
When lifestyle and home remedies fail to relieve GERD symptoms your doctor may prescribe medications. Antacids are used to neutralize stomach acids, making them less harsh. H2 blockers reduce the amount of stomach acids and proton pump inhibitors prevent the release of stomach acids. Each medication comes with possible negative side effects, so talk with your doctor to determine which is best for you.
Various tests may be necessary to determine the cause of GERD for people who don’t find relief with medications. In rare cases, surgery is needed to repair a faulty LES or repair damage from stomach acids.
The good news is that GERD is highly treatable. The earlier treatment is sought, the more effective it tends to be. So don’t waste time getting treatment if GERD is getting you down!
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