Overview and Facts about Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive health disorder that affects men, women, and children of all ages. It is characterized by the reflux or backing up of food, fluids, and acidic stomach juices from the stomach and into the esophagus. Many individuals have experienced GERD in the form of persistent heartburn, also known as acid reflux, or slight regurgitation when burping either during or after a meal.
GERD is typically felt in the esophagus, as your esophagus carries food from your mouth to your stomach. During GERD, a muscular opening located at the bottom of the esophagus or esophageal tube and above the stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter, becomes weak and fails to close. As a result, acidic stomach contents move up into the esophagus instead of down into the stomach, which irritates or burns the inner tube tissue lining of the esophagus.
Signs and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
A major sign and symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a burning sensation in your stomach and esophagus, which is felt within your inner chest or upper abdomen. During GERD, stomach acid may also rise into the mouth, causing individuals to taste their acidic stomach contents.
Individuals with GERD also experience the following symptoms:
- Eroded and damaged tooth enamel due to exposure to stomach acid
- Excess saliva
- Foul breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Painful or uncomfortable swallowing
- Problems with breathing
- Sore throat
Causes and Risk Factors of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Certain health conditions can trigger GERD. For example, pregnant women may experience GERD as their pregnancy progresses, because during pregnancy gastrointestinal organs are put under physical pressure by the growing fetus. This added pressure may cause stomach acid juices to rise into the esophagus during or after meals.
Certain foods and beverages can also trigger GERD more easily than other foods. These include alcoholic drinks and spicy, fatty, or acidic foods that are sometimes difficult to process or digest.
Other risk factors of GERD include:
Tests and Diagnosis of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
To diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a doctor or clinician may first assess your risk based on your lifestyle habits, diet, and overall medical condition. Assessing these factors allows your doctor to determine if certain lifestyle changes are necessary to prevent GERD.
However, if GERD persists, then your doctor may recommend the following tests or screenings to more closely identify the underlying causes:
- pH probe study or test
- Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy
- Upper gastrointestinal tract series or x-ray
Treatment and Care for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Eating smaller meals during the day, versus at bedtime, may help some individuals avoid symptoms of gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Certain over-the-counter medications may also be used to reduce or avoid symptoms of GERD, such as proton pump inhibitors. In more severe cases where OTC medications are only partially effective or ineffective, surgery may be either recommended or necessary.