GERD, or Gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition that occurs when acid or food contained inside the stomach find their way back up into the esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as regurgitation, chest pain, and heartburn.
Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, trouble swallowing, and a sour taste in the mouth. GERD can be a debilitating condition if left untreated. In severe cases, it can lead to ulcers or even cancer of the esophagus.
Causes of GERD
GERD is a common condition, affecting about a significant percentage of the adult population globally. The exact cause of GERD is unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to its development. These include;
Anatomic abnormalities can lead to GERD in several ways. The most common cause is a hiatal hernia, which occurs when the stomach bulges up through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity.
This can weaken the sphincter muscle and allow acidic stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus. Other anatomic abnormalities that can contribute to GERD include a thin esophageal lining, abnormal contractions of the esophageal muscles, and a misplaced valve between the stomach and esophagus.
In some cases, multiple factors may be involved. For example, a hiatal hernia combined with a weak sphincter muscle can greatly increase the risk of developing GERD.
Certain foods and drinks can increase the amount of stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn and other symptoms of GERD. Fatty and fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol are all common triggers for GERD.
Some people may be more sensitive to these triggers than others. So it’s important to pay attention to your own body and figure out what you should avoid.
For many people, weight is a sensitive subject. But carrying extra pounds can lead to more than just feelings of self-consciousness—it can also increase your risk of developing GERD.
And excess weight is one of the most common factors that can contribute to GERD. That’s because extra weight can put pressure on the stomach and weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that helps keep stomach contents from flowing back up into the throat. In addition, fat tissue can produce hormones that promote acid production in the stomach.
Smoking is a known risk factor for GERD. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to experience symptoms of GERD than non-smokers and that quitting smoking can help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
The mechanisms by which smoking contributes to GERD are not fully understood, but it is thought that the increased pressure in the stomach caused by smoking may cause the contents of the stomach to flow back up into the esophagus. Additionally, the chemicals in tobacco smoke may irritate the lining of the esophagus, making it more vulnerable to acid reflux.
Pregnancy can lead to GERD for a variety of reasons. First, the growing baby puts pressure on the stomach, which can cause the contents to back up into the esophagus.
Additionally, pregnancy hormones can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to escape from the stomach. Finally, as the uterus grows, it can compress the digestive organs, further contributing to reflux. These factors all combine to make pregnant women particularly susceptible to heartburn and other symptoms of GERD.
Some medications can increase the risk of developing GERD by weakening the lower esophageal sphincter or increasing the production of stomach acid. Examples of common medications that can contribute to GERD include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you are taking any of these medications and experience symptoms of GERD, talk to your doctor about alternative options.
Treatment Options for GERD
There are many different treatment options available for GERD, and the best option for you will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the underlying cause of your condition. In some cases, simple lifestyle changes may be all that is needed to control your symptoms.
You may also need to take medications to treat your symptoms. Over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums or Rolaids, can help to neutralize stomach acid and provide temporary relief.
H2 blockers, such as Zantac or Pepcid, can reduce the production of stomach acid. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as Nexium or Prilosec, are more powerful medications that can be used for the long-term treatment of GERD.
PPIs work by blocking the production of stomach acid. If lifestyle changes and medications don’t relieve your symptoms, you may need to undergo surgery to correct the underlying problem. One common surgical procedure for GERD is fundoplication, in which the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to tighten the sphincter and prevent acid from flowing back up into the esophagus.
Lifestyle Changes that can help Reduce GERD Symptoms
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce the symptoms of GERD. Here are some that your gastroenterologist may suggest to help with your symptoms;
Avoid trigger foods:
Certain foods, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, and fatty foods, can trigger heartburn and other symptoms of GERD. Keeping a food diary can help you identify and avoid your triggers.
Eat smaller meals:
Eating large meals can increase the pressure on your stomach and lead to heartburn. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help to reduce this pressure.
Obesity is a risk factor for GERD. Losing weight can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Smoking can contribute to GERD by weakening the lower esophageal sphincter and increasing the production of stomach acid. Quitting smoking can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Avoid lying down after eating:
Gravity can help to keep stomach contents in the stomach where they belong. Avoid lying down for at least three hours after eating to reduce the risk of heartburn.
Raise the head of your bed:
If heartburn is a problem for you at night, try raising the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches. This will help to keep stomach contents in the stomach where they belong.
Wear loose-fitting clothing:
Tight-fitting clothing can increase the pressure on your stomach and lead to heartburn. Wearing loose-fitting clothing can help to reduce the risk of heartburn.
The Bottom Line
Even though GERD can be a nuisance, it’s usually not serious. With lifestyle changes and medication, most people with GERD can find relief from their symptoms. So, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor if you think you may have GERD. Making lifestyle changes is often the first step in managing GERD. If these changes don’t provide enough relief, you may need to see your doctor for further treatment.