Eating to your heart’s content is one of the best feelings in the world. However, there are certain factors that can ruin this bliss for you. Often, after eating or even without having a heavy meal, one can feel the hot, burning acid hurting the throat and exerting unusual pressure on the chest. At times, this feeling subsides on its own or else it lingers long enough to cause evident discomfort. This condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and it occurs when the stomach acid backs up into the tube that connects the mouth and stomach (esophagus). This tendency of the stomach acid to backwash into the esophagus is called acid reflux and it can irritate the lining of the esophagus.
If you experience acid reflux frequently, there are high chances that you have GERD. GERD is characterized by mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week. This condition causes severe discomfort and can be managed with the help of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and major lifestyle changes.
Causes of GERD
GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux when the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and irritates it. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter, which is a circular band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus, relaxes. When the sphincter weakens or relaxes abnormally, the stomach acid can flow back up to the esophagus. This frequent backwash of stomach acid eventually irritates the lining of the esophagus and it becomes inflamed. There are several factors that contribute to increasing the risk of developing GERD, and it includes obesity; pregnancy; connective tissue disorders; delayed stomach emptying; smoking; eating large meals or eating late at night; consuming fatty or fried foods; drinking beverages like alcohol and coffee; and taking certain medications like alpha blockers, anti-inflammatories, sedatives, and nitrates.
Symptoms of GERD
The common symptoms of GERD include:
- Chest pain
- A burning sensation in the chest, usually after you eat (this burning sensation can get worse at night)
- Difficulty in swallowing food
- A sensation of a lump in the throat
- Regurgitation of sour liquid or food
In case you experience acid reflux at night, you might also experience these symptoms:
- A chronic cough
- Disrupted sleep
- New or worsening asthma
Treatment for GERD
The treatment for GERD mostly involves OTC medications and lifestyle changes. However, if these methods do not work, then the doctor might recommend prescription medication or surgery as a final resort. The treatment for GERD includes:
- OTC medications-The OTC medications that are used to treat GERD include antacids that can neutralize the stomach acid, H-2-receptor blockers that can reduce the acid production, and medications like proton pump inhibitors that are stronger than acid blockers and block the production of acid and heal the esophagus eventually.
- Prescription medications-The prescription-strength medications for GERD include prescription-strength H-2-receptors, prescription-strength proton pump inhibitors, and medications that strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Surgery and other procedures-In most cases, medications are effective in controlling the symptoms of GERD, but if there’s no respite from the discomfort, the doctor might recommend surgery. A fundoplication is a form of minimally invasive procedure where the top of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to tighten the muscle and prevent acid reflux. Another way of resolving GERD symptoms is by using the LINX device.