Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the muscle at the end of the esophagus — the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) — fails to close properly. This results in the contents of the stomach — acid or food — backing up into the esophagus and irritating the esophageal lining.
Typical symptoms of GERD include:
- Heartburn that occurs two or more times a week
- Acidic taste in the mouth
- Burning in the chest and/or throat
- Chest pain*
Additional possible symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
The goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms of GERD, provide relief for the patient and heal the esophagus.
Often, alterations in diet and lifestyle can provide relief for patients suffering with GERD. It is important to avoid foods such as chocolate, coffee and alcohol that can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. It is also recommended to limit or eliminate other items that can further irritate the esophageal lining (for example, citrus and tomatoes).
Losing weight, eating smaller meals and avoiding nicotine are also common treatment measures for GERD. Eating meals at least two to three hours before going to bed may help lessen reflux.
Other treatments may include:
- Over the counter antacids to decrease the amount of acid in the stomach (does not heal an inflamed/damaged esophagus)
- Over the counter or prescription H-2-receptor blockers to decrease acid production from the stomach
- Over the counter or prescription Proton pump inhibitors, (such as Prilosec OTC) go further in blocking acid production and allow time for the esophagus to heal
- Medications to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter
- Surgery to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter
- Surgery to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter with a device approved by the Food and Drug Administration
The Digestive Disease Associates gastroenterologists warn that in extreme cases, when left untreated or improperly treated, GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.
Drs. Carl Calandra, Suman Kaur and Philip Sweeney also warn that if you experience chest pain, seek immediate medical attention, especially if you have other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs of a heart attack.
Note: This information shouldn’t take the place of a physician’s care. Please see your physician or one of the Digestive Disease Associates physicians with any questions or concerns: (630) 325-4255.