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Heartburn and Reflux (GERD)

What is Heartburn and Reflux (GERD)?

Acid reflux (also known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux) is a common condition in which stomach contents occasionally spill back into the esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when an individual experiences reflux more than twice a week. GERD can also be referred to as reflux esophagitis. GERD can cause esophageal inflammation, failure to gain weight, respiratory symptoms, and choking.

Heartburn is one of the main symptoms of acid reflux and is characterized by a painful burning sensation experienced at the center of your rib cage, and sometimes behind your neck and throat.

According to the National Institute of Health, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects about 20% of the US population and affects both adults and children.

What Causes GERD?

There are risk factors for GERD. These can include: 

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Lying down after eating
  • Eating fatty foods, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, etc...
  • Taking certain prescription medications

Additionally, those with a condition called a hiatal hernia (a hernia found in the diaphragm) can suffer from GERD.

What are the Symptoms of GERD?

One of the most common symptoms of GERD is heartburn, caused by your stomach acid refluxing into your esophagus. Other signs and symptoms for GERD include:

  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Excess phlegm 
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic cough or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Throat clearing
  • Constant sour or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Having worse symptoms after eating, when bending over, or when lying down

How is GERD Diagnosed?

First, your GI will listen to your symptoms and collect your medical history. Then, your doctor may put you on a trial course of acid-suppressing medications. If these medications are found to relieve symptoms, it is a strong indicator that you have GERD.

Other procedures and testing can also diagnose GERD. An endoscopy will allow a doctor to look at your esophagus, and if they find inflammation or ulceration, it can be a good sign that reflux is constantly occurring.

An upper gastrointestinal tract X-ray can also be performed.

Ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring involves measuring the exact amount of acid reflux over a few days, and can also help diagnose GERD.

What is the Treatment for GERD?

GERD can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications. Some lifestyle changes to treat GERD naturally can include:

  • Avoiding eating within 3 hours before going to sleep
  • Avoiding nicotine
  • Avoiding “trigger foods” that worsen GERD or trigger reflux. It is best to consult with your GI doctor to create a GERD diet plan. However, some foods to avoid can include:
    • Spicy foods
    • Caffeine
    • Carbonated beverages
    • Fatty foods
    • Fried foods
    • Citrus and tomato foods
  • Elevating your head 6-8 inches while sleeping
  • Losing weight if overweight. 

Acid-suppressing medications for GERD can also be diagnosed after a consultation with a doctor.

Occasionally, minimally-invasive surgery may be recommended for individuals with more advanced symptoms.

Find more to read on this topic on our Blog.

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