What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

Millions of adults suffer from heartburn. Although many of us brush off these symptoms as “nothing to worry about,” you may be at risk of GERD.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when the acid in your stomach frequently flows back into the tube, which connects your mouth and stomach (oesophagus). The backwash of the acid (acid reflux) irritates the lining of the oesophagus, causing different uncomfortable symptoms.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association, approximately 1 out of 3 people suffer from GERD and symptoms range from moderate to severe. Usually, GERD can be managed and treated with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medication, but more severe cases will need treatment. This could be surgery and prescription medication.

Symptoms of GERD:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), usually after eating fatty or oily foods, which might be worse at night.
  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Regurgitating food or liquids.
  • The sensation of a lump in your throat.
  • Abdominal pain.

How does it happen?

The sphincter is a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your oesophagus. When you eat food or drink liquids, it relaxes so that the food and drink can flow into your stomach. It then closes again. If the sphincter malfunctions, stomach acid can flow back up into the oesophagus, causing inflammation. GERD is caused because of the excessive acid reflux in the oesophagus.

Risk factors

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Difficulty passing stools.
  • Bulging at the top of the stomach up into the diaphragm.
  • Eating a lot (especially fatty and fried foods) before bed.
  • Drinking alcohol and smoking excessively.

Managing GERD

Although the symptoms of GERD can be uncomfortable and in severe cases, painful, a few lifestyle changes will do you a world of good:

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1) Take your time with food

Cut your food into bite-sized pieces and lay your fork down between bites. This will help you avoid eating too quickly.

2) Loosen up

If you feel pressure around your waist or abdomen, your clothes are too tight. Wear loose clothes that will not put pressure on your lower oesophageal sphincter.

3) Stick to a healthy weight

Excess weight places pressure on your abdomen and pushes your stomach up. This causes acid to rush up into your oesophagus.

4) Stub it out!

Excessive smoking causes your sphincter to malfunction.

5) Clean up your diet

Avoid foods and drinks that can trigger heartburn (acid indigestion). This may include garlic, onion, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and tomato sauce.

Treatment

Remember that only a doctor can diagnose and treat you properly for GERD. Treatment for GERD aims to manage or treat symptoms, prevent complications and heal a dysfunctional oesophagus. It may include medicine, surgery, lifestyle changes or a combination of treatments.

Medication could be over-the-counter drugs like antacid medication, which provides relief for moderate cases of GERD. Antacids neutralise your stomach acid which eases heartburn.

Talk to your doctor before using any medication. If your medication isn’t working and you need something stronger, your doctor will prescribe it. GERD prescription medication generally includes ones which will help limit acid secretion in your stomach.

If your GERD is severe, surgery can help strengthen the space between your stomach and oesophagus. You can’t make the choice to have surgery though, your doctor will advise it if needed, as most cases of GERD are manageable and treatable.

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