Gastroesophageal reflux disease refers to a digestive disorder affecting the lower oesophagal sphincter, or LES. This LES muscle is shaped like a ring and is found between your stomach and your oesophagus.
Typically, you will know that you suffer from GERD if you experience heartburn or acid indigestion.
This leads to an understanding of the lower oesophagal sphincter’s function. In essence, it stops food and acidic stomach fluids from flowing back into your oesophagus.
The LES achieves this function by opening to allow food into your stomach and then closing to prevent backflow.
When the LES weakens or relaxes when it shouldn’t, stomach contents are able to go back up into the oesophagus and cause the associated symptoms such as heartburn, or acid indigestion.
Symptoms of GERD
Commonly, GERD is associated with heartburn which, as many people will have experienced at some point in their lives at least once, is characterized by a burning chest sensation.
This pain starts behind one’s breastbone, almost behind the heart – hence the term “heartburn” – and moves up into the neck and throat.
It can be described as a feeling of having one’s food making its way to one’s stomach thereby leaving an acidic or bitter taste.
The length of time in which this particular sensation is felt can vary with time depending on one’s posture – lying down or bending over can worsen, or even cause, it – but may last up to two hours in some cases.
People have reported feeling better after standing up if the heartburn sensation started while they were sitting or lying down so that may be an immediate, short-term solution to dealing with the pain.
Medicinally, antacid tablets can be taken to help clear out the acid in the oesophagus and relieve one of the burning sensation.
Additional GERD Symptoms
Other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, besides the physical pain, can include a host of others such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid due to the acidic reflux that occurs
- The sensation of a lump in the throat.
Night-time Acid Reflux Symptoms
Night-time acid reflux is also known to commonly occur as a consequence of the body’s angle while laying down thereby making it harder for a weakened sphincter to remain closed.
Night-time acid reflux presents with additional signs and symptoms including:
- Poor sleep quality due to frequent disruptions
- Asthma occurrence or worsening of an existing condition
- Chronic cough
- Laryngitis due to the acidic irritation from reflux.
When to See a Doctor
Due to the physical location of the chief symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease – behind the heart.
People experiencing GERD often mistake heartburn pain for actual heart pain thereby falsely self-diagnosing a heart disease or a heart attack.
The difference cannot be told by you though so if you do experience this pain, it is always best to seek professional medical help to make a correct diagnosis and implement a treatment plan if necessary.
One should also go see one’s doctor if symptoms are experienced several times a week, the symptoms are severe, one has difficulty breathing, or when over-the-counter medications are not working.
Risks Factors for Gastroesophageal
Heartburn is experienced by many people at least once a month. In fact, some studies put that number at about 40%. That’s 40% of the Western population experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms on a reoccurring basis.
Even children and infants commonly experience GERD symptoms with the most common symptom being continuously occurring vomiting.
Breathing problems and coughing can also be observed as additional knock-on effects of GERD symptoms.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common factors that may increase your likelihood of developing GERD.
By understanding particular lifestyle choices and how they overtly increase the chances of developing GERD, conscious choices can be made to avert a course collision with this acid reflux disease.
Obesity as always, is one of the chief culprits here with an increased body fat content greatly contributing to the likelihood of developing health problems including GERD.
Pregnancy is also a risk factor in that it can increase the chance of acid reflux from occurring.
Symptoms should subside, apart from the result of medication use, once the period of pregnancy has been passed.
Connective Tissue Disorders
Connective Tissue Disorders have been known to increase the risk of developing GERD.
Scleroderma is a condition in which the immune system damages healthy tissue and replaces it with scar tissue which causes thickening and tightening of the skin as well as internal damage to organs and other systems.
The gastrointestinal tract is also affected by this condition with inflammation and thickening of the connective tissue.
The oesophagus is the most commonly affected part of the gastrointestinal tract in people with scleroderma and, as a result, GERD signs are quite common.
In fact, around 90% of scleroderma patients exhibit signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease, sometimes referred to as oesophagal scleroderma.
A Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia is another disorder that may increase one’s probability of developing GERD.
In this condition, the stomach bulges into the chest through an opening in the diagram called the hiatus.
Some in the medical community believe that a hiatal hernia runs the risk of weakening the lower oesophagal sphincter and therefore raising the chances of experiencing gastroesophageal reflux.
One does not automatically result in the other but a hiatal hernia does make it easier for stomach contents to reflux up and into the oesophagus.
Causes of hiatal hernia are often age-related with those over 50 witnessing a higher chance of developing it.
Many who have slight hiatal hernia are actually unaware of the condition with no or very mild symptoms.
Several factors that can worsen the symptoms of acid reflux include many of the usual culprits such as smoking and drinking alcohol.
Other factors that put increased pressure on the gastrointestinal system such as eating large meals or eating late at night, eating particular trigger foods, and certain medications, should also be avoided where possible as this can lead to complications in the GI tract health and may result in GERD symptoms.
How to Treat GERD Symptoms
Treating GERD involves a combination of self-help measures, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, and, in more severe cases, stronger prescription medicines.
Self-help measures just involved more knowledge of food consumption habits such as eating smaller but more frequent meals, keeping to a healthy weight, not eating large meals late at night, and avoiding any food or drink that you know may trigger symptoms.
OTC medicine is only necessary when symptoms arise. However, long-term treatment may indeed be needed and this may involve prescription medicine as determined by one’s doctor.
Surgery is the last and most serious measure to be taken. It may be recommended by one’s doctor if medication is not preventing stomach acid from moving up into the oesophagus.
GERD Complications and Long-Term Effects
Long-term GERD symptoms may result in damage to the oesophagus due to the erosive nature of stomach acid.
This erosive damage can then lead to further problems including the following:
- Oesophagal scarring and narrowing which then may make swallowing difficult and could require surgery.
- Ulcers on the oesophagus which may, in turn, cause additional symptoms due to the possibility of bleeding.
- In rare cases, the cells in the oesophagus may change to become pre-cancerous. The condition is referred to as Barret’s Esophagus and comes with an increased chance of developing cancer.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, while not commonly a serious disease affects many people in the Western world today for a variety of reasons including increased obesity levels, poor dietary health, and increased risk factors such as alcohol and smoking.
Those suffering from GERD are also found among pregnant women as well as children.
In essence, GERD symptoms are the consequence of a weakened LES but may be treated, in most cases, with OTC medication and lifestyle changes.
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.