What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is caused by frequent acid reflux. It is a chronic disorder that occurs when the acids in the stomach back up into the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) and irritate the lining.
GERD is caused by a malfunction in a ring of muscle fibers at the end of the esophagus known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Typically, the LES opens during food consumption to allow food to pass through the esophagus into the stomach and then closes again. With GERD, the LES doesn’t fully close, allowing stomach acids to leak into the esophagus.
Risk factors that may contribute to GERD include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
- Hiatal hernia (a portion of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm muscle)
What Are the Symptoms of GERD?
Symptoms vary from person to person, but they are normally mild in severity. GERD symptoms include:
- A sensation of food feeling stuck in the esophagus (dysphagia)
- Bad breath
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
- Discomfort or pain that affects everyday activity
- A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn) that occurs after eating or at night
- Nausea or upset stomach after eating (indigestion)
- Sore throat
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Chest pain
- Some people have no symptoms at all, which is called a silent reflux
Nighttime Acid Reflux Symptoms
Heartburn symptoms can wreak havoc on your ability to get a full night of sleep. If you experience any of the following symptoms (along with the basic symptoms of GERD), you may be suffering from nighttime acid reflux:
- Disrupted sleep
- Chronic cough
- New or worsening asthma
When To See a Doctor
Many people have GERD but assume that it is related to their diet and do not see a doctor. Seeing a doctor and receiving treatment for this condition is the best way to avoid discomfort and live a healthier and more comfortable life. Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience frequent or alarming GERD symptoms for example, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dysphagia, blood in the stool, weight loss, anemia on blood work. Anyone over the age of 45, anyone with chronic reflux of 5 years or more – even if controlled with medication or take over-the-counter medication for your symptoms more than twice a week should especially make an appointment with their doctor.
You should also be aware that symptoms of GERD can be similar to symptoms of something more dangerous. Call your doctor right away if you experience persistent chest pain with shortness of breath, jaw, or arm pain. These may be signs of a heart attack.
What Are the Treatment Options for GERD?
In the majority of cases, lifestyle changes may aid in relieving GERD symptoms. These changes may include:
- Avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption
- Avoiding OTC pain medications (e.g., Advil® or Aleve®) or reducing the amount of OTCs taken
- Losing weight
- Quitting the habit of smoking
- Taking medications with plenty of water
If lifestyle changes do not alleviate symptoms, there are also medications available to treat GERD, including:
- H-2 receptor blockers to reduce acid production. These are available in OTC and prescription form.
- Medications to strengthen the LES by decreasing the frequency of LES relaxation. These are typically recommended only in severe cases of GERD.
- Proton pump inhibitors to block acid production and aid in the healing of the esophagus
In rare cases, surgical procedures to reinforce or strengthen the LES may be necessary. Surgery is only considered after all other methods of treatment have failed.
Find GERD Relief in New Jersey
GERD and acid reflux can cause immense discomfort, so the first step to finding relief is to visit a gastroenterologist to discuss your symptoms. Our physicians at Digestive Healthcare Center will evaluate your GERD symptoms and choose the best treatment path for you. We treat a variety of conditions and offer many different procedures focused on helping our patients live the healthiest lives possible. To learn more about this condition or to schedule an appointment at one of our locations in New Jersey, please contact us today.