Weak Esophageal Muscles May Cause GERD

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GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, affects as much as 35% of the U.S. population. GERD sufferers may often experience acid reflux and heartburn symptoms two or more times a week if left untreated. Over the counter antacids and prescription medications, including proton pump inhibitors, work to neutralize or decrease the stomach acid that refluxes into the esophagus and causes heartburn pain. While most current treatment plans for GERD focus on reducing the amount stomach acid that is produced, new research suggests that the problem may be found earlier in the digestive system.

Researchers used molecular imaging to examine the esophageal muscles of 49 participants who were believed to be suffering from GERD. It was reported that strong evidence suggested poor esophageal muscle tone was a factor in the acid reflux. This poor muscle tone may, researchers speculated, be partly responsible for allowing stomach acids to blow back up into the esophagus, regardless of how much stomach acid is present.

If these findings can be confirmed, new medications for treating GERD may be developed that address esophageal muscle tone. Members of the Society for Nuclear Medicine who reviewed the study of esophageal function, speculated that physicians may develop treatment plans that combine medications to reduce acid production with ways to improve esophageal muscle tone in the future, offering more long-term relief for GERD patients.

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