Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common problem for many people, and it can affect your quality of life. If you have been experiencing frequent bouts of heartburn and acid reflux, you may have GERD. If you would like to know more, keep reading.
What Causes GERD?
GERD develops when excessive stomach acid goes into the esophagus because there is limited space for the stomach acid. The condition prevents the esophageal sphincter from fully closing, which allows stomach acid to backwash into the throat. Some foods increase the risk of heartburn and excessive stomach acid including fried foods. In fact, many lifestyle choices increase your risk, including:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive coffee consumption
- Being obese
- Eating large meals at night
Some risk factors are harder to avoid. For example, a hiatal hernia creates a pocket above the diaphragm, which can capture stomach acid. Similarly, conditions that prevent your stomach from fully emptying like gastroparesis can increase the risk of GERD.
What Are the Symptoms of GERD?
The esophagus is more prone to irritation from stomach acid. As a result, GERD can present with heartburn or a painful burn in your chest. The pain usually worsens right after eating and when lying down. You may also regurgitate food and/or stomach acid. If the acid irritates your lungs, you may also notice coughing.
Other symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- The feeling of food trapped in your throat
How Is GERD Treated?
Some patients respond well to lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting exercise, and quitting smoking. However, this can take time, and it may not be effective for all patients. Luckily, there are medications that can help block stomach acid production. If the esophageal sphincter is severely damaged, you may need surgery to tighten it and make it better block stomach acid.
What if Your GERD Is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, not only will GERD continue to cause pain and discomfort, but it can lead to long-term complications. Frequent irritation of the esophageal lining can lead to inflammation (esophagitis). The acid can also erode tissue, leading to ulcers. Finally, you may develop Barrett's esophagus, which includes precancerous changes. Luckily, the cells rarely turn into cancer.
If you are sick of painful heartburn, don't wait any longer. If you have GERD, long-term exposure to acid can damage your esophagus, but there are treatments to help.
Contact a local clinic, such as Gastro Health, to learn more.