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Let’s Talk About GERD (Acid Reflux)

GERD sounds like a good name for a music band, doesn’t it and I’m sure all the people who suffer from it wish it was. Unfortunately, it stands for Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), with the more common name of Acid Reflux. 

According to Mayo Clinic, it occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus). Acid reflux can irritate the lining of the esophagus. GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux at least once a week. 

While GERD is quite common, it can, unfortunately, go unrecognized, leading to severe complications if not treated. It can generally be managed with over-the-counter products and/or making changes to your diet and lifestyle. If you find that these products are not helping and have also tried to make lifestyle changes, you may need prescription medicine from your doctor.

Symptoms

There are many different signs and symptoms of GERD, and some people may also get it in the nighttime while others are only affected during the day.

  • Heartburn, which generally occurs after eating. This may happen in the evening as well.
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pain

If you experience GERD in the night time you may also experience:

  • Sleep disruption because of the pain
  • Chronic cough

According to Houston Heartburn & Reflux Centre, there are four stages of GERD:

Stage 1: Mild GERD – Patients experience mild symptoms once or twice a month. Treatment relies on lifestyle changes and over-the-counter acid-suppressive medications.

Stage 2: Moderate GERD –  Patients experience more frequent symptoms requiring daily prescription acid-suppressive medications. Untreated GERD symptoms affect patient’s daily activities and are associated with esophageal inflammation.

Stage 3: Severe GERD – Patients with severe GERD have poorly controlled symptoms on prescription medications. Their quality of life is substantially lower. Patients are more likely to have erosive esophageal inflammation. A thorough evaluation by a GERD expert is highly recommended. A successful anti-reflux procedure that restores the integrity of the lower esophageal sphincter cures GERD and improves patient quality of life.

Stage 4: Reflux-induced precancerous lesions or esophageal cancer – Stage 4 results from many years of untreated severe reflux. 10% of patients with long-term GERD progress to stage 4. They develop a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus may progress to cancer if untreated. There are different modalities of treatment for Barrett’s esophagus aimed at preventing progression to cancer.

Seeing a doctor is always recommended if you experience some or all of these symptoms or an extended period of time, mainly if it’s new. It’s important to rule out any other health problems, particularly if chest pain continues.

Lifestyle Factors

Let’s take a look at some of the lifestyle changes that you can make to help improve and decrease how often you might get acid reflux:

  • Reduce/Stop smoking
  • Eat smaller meals, and don’t eat late at night so your meals can digest properly.
  • Decrease fatty and fried meals
  • Alcohol and coffee can sometimes affect GERD. If possible, decrease the amount that you drink of these beverages.
  • Some medications, including aspirin, can affect acid reflux. If you believe that the medication you are taking is causing this, please talk to your doctor.

Some conditions can increase the risk of GERD. These include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Hiatal Hernia

If you have any concerns, please make sure you discuss them with your doctor.