Acid Reflux Disease and GERD
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows up into the esophagus. It causes pain, irritation, destruction of the lining and leaves the throat susceptible to further damage. The symptoms of acid reflux are considered common digestion problems that many people experience from time to time. However, if acid reflux happens more than once per week, your Albany, GA doctor may diagnose you with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter functions to keep stomach acid in the stomach where it belongs. Located where the esophagus and stomach meet, this valve usually opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach. However, in people who have GERD, the value either does not close properly or sometimes opens unexpectedly. In this case, the stomach contents, including bile and acid, are allowed to rise up into the esophagus. Certain conditions, such as smoking, diabetes, asthma, obesity, hiatal hernias and pregnancy, can increase a person’s risk for developing GERD.
People usually complain of heartburn when they have GERD. This is a burning sensation that begins in the chest and radiates into the throat, sometimes causing a sore throat, pain and a sour taste in the mouth. Other people may experience vomiting, chest pain, nausea, difficulty swallowing, belching or coughing.
There are numerous ways to treat Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), including antacids, foaming agents and prokinetics. Antacids are generally the first line of defense, because they help to neutralize stomach acid. Foaming agents work by covering the stomach with foam, which may help prevent the contents of the stomach from rising into the esophagus. Prokinetics are drugs that help strengthen the sphincter muscle so it doesn’t open and close unless it’s supposed to do so. Some people find that they must use a combination of these medications to keep their symptoms in check. If nothing else seems to work, strengthening the valve through surgery might be recommended.
Many people find that staying within the recommended healthy weight range can help reduce symptoms, because excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, causing acid to rise into the throat. Restricting pressure on your abdomen by wearing loose clothing is another way in which you can prevent the symptoms of GERD. Finally, you may find that avoiding spicy foods, fried foods, garlic and caffeine may help to ward off symptoms.
GERD can cause serious complications if left untreated. Esophageal strictures and ulcers can form, which can make it difficult to breathe and swallow. Precancerous lesions can also form due to the unnatural and frequent exposure of the tissues to stomach acid. For this reason, if you are experiencing frequent heartburn make sure you contact your physician to discuss your risk for further complications.