GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) Symptoms and Treatment

gerd symptoms and treatment

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is when stomach contents — known as acid — come back up from your stomach into your esophagus. It can cause heartburn, hoarseness, chest pain and other symptoms.

Lifestyle changes and medications can often control GERD. However, if these treatments do not improve your symptoms, a gastroenterologist may recommend surgery.

Symptoms

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that occurs when gastric acid from your stomach flows back up into the esophagus. This irritates the esophagus and causes heartburn.

In normal digestion, a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens and closes to allow food into your stomach and stop acid from flowing back up. When the LES relaxes too often or for too long, acid flows back up into the esophagus.

When GERD is mild, a few simple changes in lifestyle can improve symptoms. For instance, eat slowly and chew your food well. Avoid fatty foods and drinks that trigger reflux.

If you have GERD, your doctor can prescribe medications that treat it. They may recommend antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors.

A doctor can also refer you to a gastroenterologist for treatment, which includes surgery. Surgery is usually recommended if your GERD symptoms are not improving with medicines and lifestyle changes.

Diagnosis

GERD isn’t life-threatening, but it can cause serious health problems. If you have GERD, your doctor may recommend treatment to reduce your symptoms and prevent complications.

Typical GERD symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation and chest pain. Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the problem.

A physical examination can help your doctor diagnose GERD. Your doctor will also ask about your medical history and any other symptoms you have.

Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve that controls when food goes into the stomach) relaxes or weakens and allows stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus. The most common GERD symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation, but it can also cause chest pain, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or an occasional cough.

A doctor can make a diagnosis of GERD by examining your esophagus and stomach with X-ray imaging or an upper endoscopy. If you have GERD, your health care provider will give you medications and suggest lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of acid in your body.

Treatment

If you have heartburn more than twice a week, you may have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Small lifestyle changes can often ease the symptoms of GERD.

However, if you have frequent or severe GERD symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor. Treatment options include medication and surgery.

Lifestyle changes can also help: Avoid fatty, spicy or citrus foods, caffeine and alcohol. Taking antacids as needed can help.

Your doctor can also recommend certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors and prokinetic agents. These drugs help prevent acid from flowing back into the esophagus and reduce GERD symptoms.

Treatment for GERD can be long-term. If left untreated, GERD can cause serious complications. These can range from pain, loss of appetite and choking spells to esophageal cancer and respiratory problems.

Prevention

There are steps you can take to prevent GERD. For example, you can reduce or avoid foods that trigger heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, such as fatty foods, chocolate and peppermint.

Also, you can improve your diet and sleep habits to help keep the stomach and esophagus in working order. Quitting smoking may also reduce your risk of GERD symptoms.

If you don’t take action, GERD can cause serious health problems. It can lead to esophageal damage and inflammation, ulcers or even cancer.

The lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that keeps food and liquids in the stomach, may relax when it should not. This allows stomach acid to flow back upward into the esophagus.

Occasional reflux is normal, but it can become a problem if it happens frequently or causes bothersome symptoms. This condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Treatment includes making lifestyle changes, taking medicines and using antacids or proton pump inhibitors. Surgery is sometimes used for people whose symptoms do not respond to other treatments.

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