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GERD: All You Need to Know

What Is GERD?|Signs & Symptoms|Causes & Risk Factors|Diagnosis & Treatment|Prevention
GERD: All You Need to Know

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disorder, more commonly known as GERD, is a condition that causes stomach acids to go back up the esophagus.

Normally, stomach acids do not go up into the esophagus as it is blocked by a muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter. But, for one reason or another, this sphincter gets relaxed in people with GERD, which causes stomach acids to go up the esophagus.

For the most part, GERD is not a life-threatening condition. However, if the stomach acids keep going up the esophagus, it can eventually damage the tissues and turn into a serious condition.

What’s the Connection Between GERD and Heartburn?

One common mistake that people make when it comes to GERD is mistaking it for a simple case of heartburn.

This is an easy mistake to make, since after all, GERD is chronic heartburn which means that they have almost the same symptoms. The main difference however is that heartburn happens only on occasion, and it is not a chronic condition.

But for a person with GERD, they may have attacks at least twice a week, or even more. The symptoms are usually more severe, and people with GERD suffer more discomfort compared to someone experiencing heartburn.

This is why it is important to never ignore your symptoms, because if GERD is left untreated, there is a possibility that it will develop into a more serious condition.

Heartburn or GERD: What’s the Difference?

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of GERD can vary from person to person. This is because more severe cases of GERD usually have more drastic symptoms, and less severe cases have more manageable and tolerable symptoms.

What Is GERD like?

When people ask, “What is GERD like?” a usual comparison is that it feels similar to heartburn.

However, the symptoms can be more severe, and people with GERD can experience the following:

  • Acid regurgitation
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Bad breath
  • Chronic Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Excess saliva production
  • Gum inflammation
  • Cavities
  • And in more serious cases, chest pain

These symptoms usually appear after eating too much food because the food starts to put pressure on the sphincter, which causes it to relax and makes stomach acids go up the esophagus.

In some cases, lying down can put pressure on the stomach, and cause these symptoms to manifest.

Causes & Risk Factors

Now that we answered the question, “What is GERD like?”, it’s time to discuss what exactly causes GERD, as well as the risk factors of this condition.

What Causes GERD?

GERD is primarily the result of having a weakened lower esophageal sphincter, or if it starts to relax when its not supposed to.

Here are some possible causes:

  • Being overweight or obese puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, causing it to weaken.
  • Asthma flare-ups can also trigger GERD, and most asthma sufferers also suffer from GERD.
  • Overeating can also be another cause, since eating too much can cause pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Some types of foods, such as chocolate, coffee, and fatty foods can cause the sphincter to relax.
  • Drinking alcohol and smoking both weaken the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Some types of medication such as aspirin can also cause GERD.
  • Gastritis and ulcers are also possible causes of GERD
  • People who have an allergic condition in their esophagus can have repeated cases of heartburn, which can progress into GERD.

What Are the Risk Factors for GERD?

Here are some of the possible risk factors for GERD:

  • Being obese
  • Having a weak lower esophageal sphincter
  • Being pregnant
  • Smoking is another risk factor, along with alcohol drinking
  • Older people are also at risk

If you are at risk of gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or if you are already starting to experience the symptoms, it is important to take steps in order to prevent or manage this condition.

Early treatment can help prevent it from progressing further.

Diagnosis & Treatment

In order to find out if you have GERD or not, as well as how severe the condition is, getting diagnosed is important.

Together with studying a patient’s medical history, here are some ways that doctors can diagnose your condition:

Endoscopy

An endoscopy is a procedure that uses an endoscope, or a camera attached to a long, thing tube, which is then put inside your mouth and down your throat. It is employed when there are signs of obstruction( dysphagia or odynophagia), weight loss, anemia , heme-positive stool and more than 5-10 years of symptoms.

This procedure is done under anesthesia, and allows doctors to see your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. If necessary, doctors can also take a biopsy or tissue sample.

Bernstein Test

This tests if the symptoms you are experiencing is caused by acid or not. In the Bernstein test, mild acid is dripped down your esophagus using a tube. This essentially replicates the symptoms of heartburn, and the doctor can find out if what you are experiencing is indeed GERD.

Ambulatory Acid Test

The ambulatory acid test monitors the amount of acid, or the pH level of your esophagus. A high level means that you have been experiencing acid reflux.

If your doctor identifies your condition as GERD, then treatment can start.

How Is GERD Treated?

Here are some of the possible forms of treatment available for gastroesophageal reflux disorder:

  • Antacids can be an effective form of treatment.
  • In some cases, medication that reduces the amount of acid produced by the stomach is prescribed.
  • Medication to prevent the gastroesophageal sphincter from relaxing can also be prescribed by doctors.
  • Surgery can be done to help reinforce the esophageal sphincter to prevent acid reflux.
  • A device called a LINX uses a bracelet of tiny magnets to help keep the sphincter closed to prevent acid reflux. It is however weak enough to allow food and liquids to go to the stomach.

Prevention

Here are some ways of how to prevent gastroesophageal reflux disorder:

  • If you are obese or overweight, try to lose weight to be as close to your ideal weight as possible.
  • Instead of eating 3 full meals a day, try to eat smaller meals throughout the day. This helps keep your stomach full and helps with preventing acid buildup.
  • Try to avoid sleeping on your right side.
  • Avoid eating trigger foods, such as spicy foods, or acidic foods.
  • Caffeine is also a possible trigger for acid reflux, so it would be best to avoid it.
  • As much as possible, avoid smoking and drinking as these habits can weaken your lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Try to avoid eating before bedtime.
  • Reduce the fat in the food you eat.
  • After eating, try to keep your body upright for at least 45-60 minutes.

Key Takeaways

It is important to not simply dismiss any pain or burning sensation in your chest as a simple case of heartburn. If you frequently experience heartburn, then it might be a good idea to visit your doctor and see if it might be GERD.

Another thing that you can do would be to follow the preventive measures to stop your condition from getting worse. GERD may not be as serious as other health problems, but this does not mean that you can simply ignore it.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment, https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease, Accessed August 06 2020

GERD | Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease | MedlinePlus, https://medlineplus.gov/gerd.html#cat_78, Accessed August 06 2020

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361959, Accessed August 06 2020

Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults | NIDDK, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults, Accessed August 06 2020

GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux) Management and Treatment | Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17019-gerd-or-acid-reflux-or-heartburn-overview/management-and-treatment, Accessed August 06 2020

GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux) Prevention | Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17019-gerd-or-acid-reflux-or-heartburn-overview/prevention, Accessed August 06 2020

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) | Gastrointestinal Society, https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/gerd/, Accessed August 06 2020

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) | Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd, Accessed August 06 2020

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn | Cedars-Sinai, https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/g/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerdheartburn.html, Accessed August 06 2020

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) | Michigan Medicine, https://www.uofmhealth.org/conditions-treatments/digestive-and-liver-health/gerd-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease, Accessed August 06 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 08
Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, M.D.
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