What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or frequently known as acid reflux or frequent heartburn occurs when stomach acid or bile flows upward into the esophagus or food pipe and irritates the esophageal lining. Many people have this condition occasionally, but it’s not considered GERD unless it occurs more than twice weekly. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common signs and symptoms of GERD include:
Symptoms of GERD
- Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest, often after meals or when lying down.
- Regurgitation: The sensation of stomach contents coming back into the throat or mouth.
- Chest Pain: Intermittent or chronic chest discomfort that can be mistaken for heart-related issues.
- Difficulty Swallowing: The feeling of a lump in the throat or pain when swallowing.
- Chronic Cough: A persistent cough that may be caused by stomach acid irritating the airways.
- Hoarseness: Changes in your voice due to irritation in the throat.
- Asthma Symptoms: Aggravation of asthma symptoms, particularly at night.
Managing GERD involves a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and, in some cases, medication. Here are some key strategies:
Dietary Adjustments: Avoid trigger foods like citrus fruits, spicy foods, caffeine, and fatty or fried foods. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals and avoid eating close to bedtime.
Lifestyle Changes: Elevate the head of your bed to prevent nighttime reflux, maintain a healthy weight, and quit smoking if you smoke.
Medications: Over-the-counter antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can provide relief. Consult a healthcare professional for appropriate recommendations.
Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter or correct structural issues.
Is your heartburn a sign of a more serious condition?
In some cases, chronic GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a condition where the cells lining the lower esophagus change, potentially increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.
Understanding the Risk of Cancer
While Barrett’s esophagus itself is not cancer, it is considered a precancerous condition. The transformation of esophageal cells can increase the risk of developing a type of cancer known as esophageal adenocarcinoma. However, it’s essential to remember that the majority of individuals with Barrett’s esophagus do not progress to cancer.