Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

“For patients with moderate to severe GERD, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to relieve your symptoms.”

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition marked by a back flow of food and stomach acid into the lower esophagus due to a weakening in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The job of the LES is to close off the space between the lower esophagus and the stomach. This doesn’t happen in people with GERD, however, and their stomach contents regurgitate up into the esophagus, causing inflammation and irritation.

While anyone can develop GERD, certain factors (such as overeating, pregnancy, diet, hiatal hernia (link to hiatal hernia page) and family history) increase your chances of developing the condition.

Heartburn is the most common indication of GERD. Other symptoms can include difficulty swallowing, chronic sore throat, hoarseness, dry cough, wheezing, chest pain, and acid regurgitation. Acid reflux sufferers also may experience dysphagia, a narrowing of your esophagus that creates the sensation of food being stuck in your throat; bloody or black stools; bloody vomit; persistent hiccups; and/or unexplained weight loss.

All GERD symptoms can range in intensity from minor to severe depending on each specific case. Therefore it’s critically important to treat minor and severe symptoms early in order to prevent extensive damage.

Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial. If left untreated, GERD can develop into complications and more serious GI conditions, including esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus (a condition that increases the risk of esophageal cancer).

Treatment options for GERD sufferers vary widely depending on the severity and symptoms of their disease. Some patients may be able to sufficiently manage their symptoms by making lifestyle adjustments, such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol, and stopping smoking. Eating modifications may also help, such as eating smaller meals; avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, coffee and chocolate; remaining upright after meals; and eating evening meals several hours before going to bed.  You can also try sleeping with the head of your mattress elevated.

For patients with moderate to severe GERD, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to relieve your symptoms. You may need physician-supervised medical therapy or surgical intervention.

The Heartburn and Acid Reflux Center’s board-certified physicians use the latest medical technologies to diagnose and treat a wide range of GI problems. We’re happy to discuss all of the appropriate options available to you so that together we can map out the optimum treatment plan for your unique situation. Contact us today at 714-732-9199.

Figure 1: The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscle located between the stomach and esophagus. Normally, the LES relaxes to allow food and liquid to pass into the stomach and then closes to prevent reflux.

Figure 2: In people with GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak, allowing acid and bile to flow back from the stomach into the esophagus.

Medications for GERD are designed to control or suppress acid production in the stomach. They DO NOT address the cause of GERD and do not prevent reflux.

Complications

GERD can lead to potentially serious complications, including:
  • Esophagitis (Inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus)
  • Stricture (Narrowing of the esophagus)
  • Barrett’s Esophagus (Pre-cancerous changes to the esophagus)
  • Esophageal Cancer