GERD or Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a medical condition that occurs when the acid in the stomach flows back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach in the body. This frequent flow back of acid can irritate the lining of the esophagus.
However, this condition is considered normal and can occur in people of all ages, especially senior citizens. Averagely a person experiences mild acid reflux at least twice a week and severe acid reflux once a week. But in most cases, the condition is manageable with specific lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But in some cases, GERD may require strong treatments, such as surgery to treat the symptoms.
Symptoms of GERD
The symptoms of GERD can range from mild to severe depending on the condition of the patient. Some of the common symptoms of the problem include:
- Chest pain
- Problem in swallowing
- The feeling of a blockage or lump in the throat
- Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
- Churning of food or liquid from the stomach to the mouth
- Breathing issues such as intense cough or asthma
Causes of GERD
Typically, the human body has a lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which is the form of a round band of muscle. The LES is located at one end of the esophagus and normally relaxes and opens when the food is swallowed. After the process, the esophagus tightens and closes.
Acid reflux occurs when this normal functioning of the esophagus is disturbed and the LES does not close properly or tightens irregularly. This pushes the digestive juices from the stomach back to the esophagus.
To confirm the symptoms, the doctor will conduct a physical exam and also assess the symptoms experienced. Moreover, based on the analysis, the doctor will further use any of the below procedures to confirm the diagnosis or evaluate any complications:
- Barium swallow: In this procedure, the patient is asked to drink a barium solution, which allows the healthcare provider to assess the upper digestive tract by using X-Ray imaging.
- Upper endoscopy: In this method, the surgeon inserts a flexible, thin tube called an endoscope into the esophagus to examine the insides and also collect a tissue sample for biopsy.
- Esophageal manometry: This procedure is used to check the length of the esophagus by inserting a flexible tube.
- Esophageal pH monitoring: This involves inserting a small monitor into the esophagus to understand when and how the acid reflux happens.
Treatment for GERD
To treat GERD and related symptoms, the healthcare provider will ask the patient to make certain lifestyle modifications, especially in the diet, eating habits and other behaviours. Moreover, specific over-the-counter medications can be used to relieve discomfort.
The patient will be advised to refrain from the following food and beverages that can trigger GERD:
- High-fat, trans-fat food
- Citrus food
- Coffee and tea
- Spicy food
However, in cases, where GERD does not respond to the non-invasive treatments, the healthcare provider might recommend surgery. But in most of the cases, general lifestyle changes are enough to prevent the issue.
That said, in patients that experience complications of GERD, surgery may be the only option. There are multiple types of surgeries to treat GERD.
Risk factors for GERD
Some people are at a higher risk of having GERD than others. These including:
- Obese people
- People with hiatal hernia
- Pregnant women
- People with connective tissue disorders
Moreover, specific lifestyle habits also increase the risk of GERD in people:
- Eating heavy meals
- Immediately lying down or sleeping after meals
- Consuming fatty foods such as fried or spicy items
- Specific beverages such as soda, deep-fried, or alcohol
- Consuming nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Eating greasy foods
- Consuming chocolate, coffee, peppermint, etc.
Potential complications of GERD
Generally, GERD is highly manageable and does not cause any significant complications. However, in some cases, the problem can cause life-threatening complications.
Some of the common issues related to GERD include:
- Inflammation of the esophagus, also known as esophagitis
- Narrowing or tightening of the esophagus, esophageal stricture
- Permanent alternations to the lining of the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus
- Esophageal cancer
- Intense cough
- Breathing issues
- Erosion of the tooth enamel
- Gum disease
- Other dental problems
To minimise the complications from GERD, it is important to prevent the triggers and get appropriate treatment from a healthcare provider for GERD.
Home Remedies for GERD
Specific lifestyle changes and home remedies such as below can help relieve GERD symptoms. Some steps in this direction could include:
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding high trans-fat food
- Losing excessive weight
- Consuming normal and light meals
- Taking a slow walk after a meal
- Applying relaxation techniques
- Limiting wearing tight clothes
- Chewing gum post food
- Avoiding food and beverages that trigger GERD
Moreover, in addition to the prescribed medications for GERD, the patient can also take the following herbal remedies to treat GERD:
- Chamomile tea
- Liquorice root
- Marshmallow root
- Warm lemon water
- Ginger tea
Overall, it is best to take preventive measures to treat GERD. Moreover, timely consultation with a healthcare provider can help minimise complications, get a long-term cure for GERD and improve the quality of life.