What is GERD?
Also known as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic disorder that occurs when the acids in the stomach backup into the esophagus 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
- Heartburn that occurs at night
- Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week and gets progressively worse
- Nausea or upset stomach after eating (indigestion)
- Sore throat
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 over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications (e.g., Advil®, 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.