What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where an abnormal amount of acid from your stomach travels into your esophagus. Everyone will have acid reflux from time to time; however, to have GERD you must have excessive amounts of acid reflux. Acid reflux is a common condition that affects about 20 percent of the U.S. population.
The most common symptoms of GERD include heartburn and regurgitation, especially of sour or bitter liquid. Other symptoms include chest pain, cough, throat clearing, hoarseness, sore throat though these may be related to other conditions.
GERD vs acid reflux
As stated, many people experience acid reflux occasionally. However, when the amount of reflux into the esophagus is abnormal, it is known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD and can lead to severe complications if left untreated.
Causes of heartburn
Heartburn and acid reflux can be due to many causes. Seeing a physician who is an expert in evaluating and testing for abnormal acid reflux in the esophagus important.
In patients with typical heartburn and regurgitation symptoms, your doctor may first begin with treatments with medications. However, if you have very frequent symptoms or atypical symptoms, your doctor may recommend testing first. These tests help to assess the amount of acid reflux and assess if there is damage in the esophagus.
From this information, we are able to diagnose the following conditions.
- Erosive Reflux Disease: Severe acid reflux with damage including swelling and redness of the bottom of the esophagus where it meets the stomach.
- Non-erosive Reflux Disease: High levels of acid reflux into the esophagus which causes symptoms but no damage to the esophagus.
- Reflux Hypersensitivity: normal amounts of acid reflux in the esophagus on testing but the patient is able to feel acid in the esophagus. This occurs because the nerves in the esophagus are sensitive.
- Functional Heartburn: patients experience normal amounts of acid reflux into the esophagus. However, they still have symptoms of heartburn unrelated to any acid reflux. This is typically a problem with sensation of the esophagus.
Signs & Symptoms of GERD
The typical symptoms of acid reflux and GERD include heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation in the stomach and chest, as well as acid regurgitation. Regurgitation is when stomach acid travels upwards from the stomach into the esophagus, which can leave a sour or bitter taste at the back of the mouth.
Common GERD symptoms include:
- Regurgitating food or sour liquid back the throat and mouth
- Upper abdominal or chest pain
- A sensation of a lump in the throat
Less common GERD symptoms include:
- Sore Throat
- Throat clearing
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Sudden excess saliva
- Food sticking in the throat
What Causes GERD?
GERD occurs when abnormal amounts of acid from the stomach go into the esophagus. This can happen when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is too relaxed or open for too long, allowing stomach acid to flow up toward the esophagus and into the throat and mouth. GERD is caused by chronic and prolonged acid reflux, which can irritate the esophagus lining.
Obesity, medications, hiatal hernia, and smoking can also contribute to GERD.
Chocolate, peppermint, and high-fat foods affect the LES's muscle tone, allowing the muscle to stay open longer than usual. Acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes can also cause patients to have symptoms of heartburn and reflux.
Risk Factors of GERD
GERD can affect almost anyone, from babies to adults. But many risk factors increase the chances of developing GERD as an adult, especially after age 40.
Risk factors that directly impact development of GERD
Risk factors that aggravate acid reflux:
- Eating large meals
- Lying down or sleeping shortly after eating, especially large meals
- Eating citrus, spicy, high fat, acidic foods
- Drinking alcohol
For most people, acid reflux doesn't cause any serious complications. Still, people with this condition should be aware of any potential complications that may happen in patients with severe forms of the disease (erosive reflux disease).
- Esophagitis: swelling, inflammation, and redness of your esophagus.
- Esophageal stricture: a narrowing of your esophagus as a reaction to protect the esophagus from longstanding acid. You may feel symptoms of difficulty swallowing.
- Barrett's esophagus: permanent changes to the lining of your esophagus from longstanding acid reflux.
- Esophageal cancer: affects a small portion of people with Barrett's esophagus.
GERD prevention is possible by adopting a few diet and lifestyle changes. One of the most critical changes is dietary. Avoiding specific food triggers will help you enjoy life and minimize symptoms.
- Avoid lying down for at least three to five hours after a meal
- Wear loose-fitting clothes to avoid pressure on your abdomen
- Lose any excess weight
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day
- Quit smoking
- Sleep on a wedge pillow that elevates the head or elevate the head of your bed to help keep stomach acid from traveling into the esophagus
Avoid the following foods and beverages:
- Fatty or fried foods
- Carbonated beverages, such as soda
- Citrus fruits
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for GERD Care
Everyone will, at some point in their lives, experience occasional acid reflux symptoms. But frequent occurrences could mean the development of GERD. That’s when professional medical care at NewYork-Presbyterian can offer the help by offering the support you need.
Our esophageal care centers provide the necessary testing to diagnose and manage GERD. Our highly experienced doctors and surgeons can provide effective GERD treatment therapies. Call us and make an appointment to see what we can do for you.