Heartburn, acid reflux, and sharp pain after eating may be the result of a condition called GERD. If you have experienced these symptoms you don’t need to worry, since GERD can be managed through lifestyle changes and medications. It is important to have a full understanding of the condition to prevent complications and find the best treatment for you. Read on below to find out everything you need to know about GERD.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, is a long-term condition that involves frequent reflux and regurgitation of stomach juices. Your esophagus is connected to your stomach. During a GERD attack, your stomach juices move up into your esophagus.
Every day, up to 20% of American adults will experience gastroesophageal reflux or GER. To be diagnosed with GERD you must experience GER twice a week or more. GERD can affect your quality of life, through pain, needing medication frequently, and by limiting the foods you can eat. As one of the most common digestive disorders, it is important to understand what is GERD and how to quickly treat its symptoms.
When we eat, our mouth chews the food and mixes with saliva, which helps to break down our food, making it easier to swallow. After swallowing, the food moves down into our esophagus. The esophagus is a long hollow tube that leads to our stomach.
As the food enters our stomach it must first go through the lower esophageal sphincter. When working correctly, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes and allows food to pass into the stomach. It usually remains closed to prevent our stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. If it allows gastric fluids to rise back into the esophagus heartburn will occur.
Heartburn and GERD are caused when the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes and allows stomach juices to enter the esophagus, though this can happen for many different reasons. Here we cover each one of the GERD causes and discuss everything you need to know.
When someone carries extra weight there is more pressure on the abdomen. The additional pressure on the abdomen causes the lower esophageal sphincter to push gastric fluids up out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
During pregnancy, there is an increase in circulating hormones that relax the lower esophageal sphincter. The increase in hormones and the pressure from the growing baby can cause reflux. Luckily, most pregnant women will have full resolution of their symptoms after they deliver their baby.
The most common perpetrators of reflux are asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, antidepressants, and sedatives. If you believe your medications are causing your GERD you should discuss your concerns with your doctor and he or she may be able to switch around your medications.
Smoking or inhaling second hand smoke can aggravate your GERD. The smoke irritates your esophagus which will worsen your symptoms. If you are experiencing GERD disease we recommend staying away from smokers or quitting if you smoke.
If you have been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia then this may be the cause of your GERD. A hiatal hernia is when part of your stomach has moved up through your diaphragm through an opening called the hiatus. This causes a lower pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter which will allow stomach juices to enter the esophagus.
Asthma suffers are significantly more likely to experience GERD. Reports estimate that 75% of adults with asthma also have GERD. During an asthma attack, the increased pressure in the lungs creates more pressure on the stomach. This will cause a reflux of stomach juices up into the esophagus.
People who experience the signs of GERD may have the taste of gastric juices in their mouth. They also will have heartburn regularly. Not every adult will have all the classic GERD symptoms. To help you discern if you have GERD we have listed all the GERD signs and symptoms below.
- Bad breath
- Painful or difficulty swallowing
- Breathing problems
- Worn teeth enamel
If you have recurring reflux and heartburn you might have GERD. Make an appointment with your doctor to get a firm GERD diagnosis. During your appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your previous health history and current symptoms. Be prepared to provide a list of all your currently prescribed medications.
During an upper endoscopy, you will be given a sedative to make you sleep. Once asleep, a gastroenterologist will guide a small tube with a camera, called an endoscope, down your esophagus and into your stomach. The camera will allow the doctor to see the lining of your esophagus and stomach to visualize any damage from the gastric fluids.
The doctor can take small pieces of the lining of your esophagus and stomach for biopsy to be read by a pathologist. Typically an upper endoscopy is reserved for people with moderate to severe GERD.
During an esophageal pH monitor, you will have a small tube threaded through your nose down to your esophagus. The tube will be secured to the outside of your nose or face and will remain there for 24 hours. The end of the tube in your esophagus will take a reading of the acid levels. The other end is connected to a monitor recording the readings.
During the 24 hours, the monitor is recording acid levels you will need to keep a log of the foods you eat and when you eat. This test is one of the best diagnostic tools for diagnosing GERD.
A gastroenterologist can diagnose acute and chronic GERD using an esophageal manometry. The doctor using a numbing spray on the back of your throat and mouth. Then he or she will pass a small tube through your nose and down your esophagus. The test will measure the muscle contractions in your esophagus. It will also tell your doctor if your lower esophageal sphincter is weakened, which can cause severe GERD symptoms.
Your doctor may suggest you get a series of x-rays that will look at your upper gastrointestinal tract. During this test, you will drink a chalky liquid called barium then sit or stand while an x-ray machine takes multiple pictures. The x-rays will be read by a radiologist who will be able to see if there are any physical abnormalities related to your GI tract.
The pictures will not be able to directly diagnose GERD but will help your doctors determine if there is something causing the GERD pain, like a hiatal hernia.
Why Your GERD Symptoms Matter
GERD complications need to be taken seriously. It isn’t just an uncomfortable feeling in your chest, it is a condition that can lead to serious health issues. Here is a list of complications of GERD.
One of the most serious complications of GERD is Barrett’s esophagus. This condition causes the lining of your esophagus to be replaced with a tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine. Those who develop Barrett’s esophagus are also at a greater risk for developing a cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.
When your esophagus is constantly taking a beating from stress and GERD you are at risk for developing an esophageal ulcer. An esophageal ulcer is an open sore in the esophagus caused by the reflux of stomach juices. The ulcer can be painful and bleed.
If you are having difficulty swallowing, GERD may have caused an esophageal stricture. When the stomach juices wash up into the esophagus it can cause scar tissue to form. These scar tissues narrow the esophagus which leads to swallowing difficulties.
Your GERD chest pain might be caused by esophagitis. Esophagitis is the inflammation, or swelling, of the esophagus. If you suffer from esophagitis you are more likely to have precancerous changes in the esophagus as well.
If you suffer from GERD you may be breathing in stomach acid into your lungs. The repeated irritation from the acid can cause serious respiratory conditions. Unfortunately, GERD and asthma go hand in hand as do many other diseases. If you have laryngitis, wheezing, pneumonia, or chest congestion, it may be related to your GERD.
Learning how to treat GERD doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many different types of GERD treatments. Your treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how long you have dealt with GERD. The treatments listed below will help guide you in your conversation with your doctor as to how best treat your GERD.
Vive Health's wedge pillow is a great way to manage GERD symptoms each and every night. ( See Product )
Sometimes the simplest changes will make a big impact on your reflux. A GERD pillow will keep your upper body upright while you sleep. Just by sitting upright you will be using gravity to keep your reflux to a minimum.
There are many home remedies and lifestyle changes that you can try to find GERD relief. See some of our favorites below.
Drinking chamomile, licorice, or ginger tea has helped many people with their reflux. We love the idea of relaxing each night with a cup of tea as an easy way to treat GERD. If you take other medications, talk to your doctor before you start an herbal supplement or tea. Herbs can dangerously interact with medications.
Our digital bathroom scale can make everyday health manageable with an easy to read display. ( See Product )
Carrying around extra weight puts more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. Maintaining a healthy weight will positively impact your health in many ways, including your digestive system. A digital bathroom scale can be the perfect way to keep you on top of your health.
During meals, take your time and savor each bite. Eating slowly gives your body plenty of time to digest food. This will also help to avoid over eating which often times worsens GERD symptoms.
You have probably noticed that certain foods and drinks cause reflux. The most common culprits are coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, spicy and high-fat foods. Pay attention to what causes your GERD and stay far away from it!
Remain sitting or standing after a meal for three hours to enlist gravity in the fight against GERD. This might require you eating earlier in the evening.
There are two classes of GERD medications, over the counter or prescription. The medications are not a GERD cure, but treat the symptoms of reflux. If you are experiencing infrequent reflux most over the counter medications will suffice. If your reflux is more than twice a week, then your doctor may prescribe a medication.
Over the Counter
The most common over the counter medications are antacids and H2 blockers. These medications neutralize stomach acid, which works well for people with mild GERD who want quick relief. Watch out though, antacids can cause diarrhea or constipation!
H2 blockers are can provide quick relief with a long-term effect. The H2 blockers decrease acid production in your stomach which will allow your esophagus to heal if you suffer from frequent heartburn.
The two most commonly prescribed medications for GERD are PPIs and prokinetics. Proton pump inhibitors, also known as PPIs, decreases the amount of acid the stomach produces. This medication can be over to the counter or prescription. Many doctors will choose this class of medication for the long term treatment of GERD.
If your GERD does not respond to medications your doctor may suggest surgery. GERD surgery should not be taken lightly and is usually reserved as a last resort.
Most doctors suggest a fundoplication for their patients. During this type of surgery, a part of the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus creating more pressure around the lower part of the esophagus to reduce reflux. You should expect to stay in the hospital up to three days after a fundoplication.
One of your first steps in managing your GERD will be the hardest--changing your diet. A healthy GERD diet avoids trigger foods and incorporates a variety of healthy foods. But, adopting a GERD diet plan doesn’t have to be boring. We have provided you a couple GERD recipes to start you off in the right direction.
Banana Walnut Muffins make a perfect on-the-go breakfast or snack. Try them fresh or freeze a batch to keep for the future. Muffins are low in acid which will work well for a GERD diet menu!
Here is a banana ginger smoothie that will be soothing to the esophagus and incorporate a natural GERD treatment, ginger. Sometimes GERD can be brought on my large, heavy meals. This smoothie is a great meal replacement or addition to a small snack.
Living with GERD
GERD is a lifelong condition, but it doesn’t have to change your life. Frequent heartburn that occurs more than twice a week is classified as GERD. Make lifestyle changes and discuss the use of a GERD medication to keep your symptoms under control. Once you’re symptom-free you’ll learn to love food again while keeping GERD acid reflux under control!