Symptoms & Treatment for Reflux Disease (Heartburn)
What is gastroesophageal reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux is a problem that involves acid regurgitating from the stomach and entering the esophagus. Often, the problem is described as “heartburn” because it produces a burning feeling in the chest or throat. It may also cause a sour or bitter taste in the throat or mouth. These symptoms of reflux may last for hours after food is consumed, and may worsen at night or after eating certain types of food. When gastroesophageal reflux occurs more than twice a week or causes difficulty swallowing, it may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.
Who does heartburn effect?
Heartburn affects over 60 million U.S. citizens every month, and another 15 million people in the U.S. experience the problem every day of their lives.
How is GERD diagnosed?
Upper Endoscopy Testing
An upper endoscopy is a test that involves passing a small, flexible medical instrument called an endoscope through the patient’s mouth and into their esophagus. From there, the tube can enter the stomach and even the entrance of the small bowel. The end of the endoscope is a small camera that can see inside of the patient to look for any abnormalities. The camera projects live images onto a screen that your doctor can examine and analyze in order to make a diagnosis.
Upper GI Series Testing
During this testing, your doctor will use a liquid barium solution and a fluoroscope to see how your body processes the liquid. The test allows your doctor to see in real time how the fluid moves through your system and how your body functions.
Esophageal Manometry / Esophageal PH Testing
This test involves inserting a small tube into your esophagus and through to the stomach to measure the functioning of your esophagus. The test can measure the acid levels in your esophagus over time, up to 48 hours.
How do I know if I have GERD?
Extra-esophageal manifestations (EEM) are other health problems that stem from GERD but appear to be unrelated. The continual presence of acid inside the esophagus can cause a wide spectrum of problems that go far beyond heartburn, but are commonly mistaken for other issues. It is important to ask your doctor about testing for GERD if you suspect you may be suffering from the condition. GERD is often overlooked when it is, in fact, the root cause of these common problems:
- Chronic cough
- Asthma-like conditions
What are the possible complications of GERD?
GERD that goes untreated for an extended period of time can turn into esophageal cancer. Patients who have chronic heartburn must monitor the condition routinely to check for malignant tumors. In order to prevent this, the best solution is to treat GERD early.
Barrett’s esophagus is a serious condition that can stem from untreated GERD. Because the esophagus is not strong enough to hand the amount of acid that is regurgitating through it, it can take on a lining that is closer to the stomach lining. Unfortunately, sometimes the symptoms of GERD subside when Barrett’s esophagus has developed and patients believe their condition has improved. Instead, Barrett’s esophagus is a sign that cancer could soon develop.
Peptic Structure Problems
Chronic acid exposure in the esophagus can cause this condition, which makes a patient experience pain when swallowing and may have the feeling that food is “sticking in the throat.”
How is GERD treated?
Lifestyle / Diet Changes
In addition to eating smaller meals more frequently, following this simple guide can help to lower the amount of gastric foods that enter the esophagus:
Medication for GERD
Sometimes, GERD may not respond to lifestyle and diet changes alone. In these cases, patients may be recommended prescription medications to help reduce the production of acid and improve your GERD condition. Patients should not take over the counter medications more than 1-2 times a week.
Surgeries to reduce GERD effects, including the Linx procedure, may be beneficial for patients with severe GERD that does not respond to conservative alternatives. In addition, the following complications of GERD warrant a surgical procedure for some patients:
- Recurring stricture
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Abnormal growths in the esophagus