GERD is the common term used for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It is better known as acid reflux, and it affects a significant percentage of the population, especially during middle and old age. Other especially susceptible groups are pregnant women and the obese. You will also likely experience GERD if you are stressed. To put it plainly, the acids that are contained in the stomach back up back into the mouth through the esophagus and this can cause major discomfort. You have probably experienced a heart burn at some point in your life – this is acid that should remain in your stomach, but is backing up into your esophagus and sometimes even into your mouth.
When it occurs very frequently and causes significant discomfort, it is diagnosed as GERD. To understand exactly what happens, the food in your stomach is digested by hydrochloric acid. To protect your stomach from corrosion from the hydrochloric acid, there is thick mucus lining around it. Once food is digested in your stomach, it moves lower in your digestive tract and then there is no danger of it causing acid to go back up your esophagus.
With GERD, the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach is weakened and sometimes lets the acid back up into your esophagus and mouth. Most people call it heart burn. With GERD however, the symptoms can be more serious than just heart burn. You need to look out for the following:
- Heart burn is the most obvious one. It will often happen just after a meal and if ignored can go on for hours causing major discomfort. Most people deal with heartburn using anti-acids but if the heartburn is pretty severe and consistent, you will need to visit your doctor just to be sure that your heartburn is not developing into GERD.
- You may feel irritation in your throat. Hydrochloric acid is pretty powerful stuff, and since your esophagus and throat are not protected by a mucus lining like the stomach, the acid will burn through the top layer of your throat and cause irritation. If this irritation continues for a long time without medical attention, you will find that you have recurrent sore throats. In extreme cases, laryngitis will probably develop.
- You may regurgitate. This basically means bringing food back up after a meal – not to be confused with vomiting, regurgitation is bringing back a small amount of food back up the throat. The food will have an acidic taste.
- Bad breath is common with GERD victims. When the acid comes back into your mouth through reflux, it starts to attack your teeth and this leads to a sourish kind of breath.
- As mentioned earlier, acid reflux causes your throat to get irritated. This can lead to difficulty in swallowing – when you swallow something, you feel it stick in your throat before it goes down into your stomach. This is because the acid corrosion wears out your esophageal muscles – the ones responsible for pushing food down into your stomach during a swallowing motion.
You may be tempted to ignore the symptoms of GERD and write them down to a normal heartburn. This has its dangers however:
- The powerful hydrochloric acid may eventually damage your teeth enamel.
- If left unattended, patients will start to experience nausea and maybe even vomiting.
- GERD can cause chest pains that mimic a heart attack. Just to be sure that you are not having a heart attack, see your doctor about continuous acid reflux and pains in the chest.
- Untreated GERD will eventually lead to ulcers of the esophagus – a major complication that is not easy to treat.
- At the worst, it can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
Do not take that heartburn lightly if it occurs frequently and seems to go on and on. There are some things you can do yourself to ensure that you minimize acid reflux – avoid spicy foods, do not lie down immediately after a meal and do not eat and go to bed straight away – give your food time to settle. Because GERD is pretty easy to treat if caught early, you should visit your doctor to make sure that you do not develop unnecessary complications.
on Jul 5th, 2010 and filed under Digestive Health
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