Heartburn/Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Heartburn or acid reflux occurs when the stomach contents (acid and sometimes food) flow upwards, into the esophagus. This is a normal physiologic process that is occasionally experienced by many people. However, when the reflux occurs frequently (two to three times a week), it may cause troublesome symptoms and complications that are defined as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Persistent heartburn and GERD should be evaluated by a doctor and adequately treated to avoid the risk of more serious problems, such as Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Heartburn – a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and behind the breastbone
Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
Regurgitation of food and fluids
Difficulty or pain while swallowing
Sensation of having a lump in the throat
Persistent sore throat or hoarseness
Some GERD symptoms, such as chest pain, are similar to the symptoms experienced in certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. If you experience these symptoms, visit your doctor immediately to rule out potentially life threatening conditions.
Diagnosis is made based on the symptoms. In some cases further testing, such as endoscopy, is performed to evaluate esophageal injury.
Treatment of GERD will depend on the severity of symptoms. Lifestyle changes are often effective for mild GERD. A more severe disease requires a more aggressive treatment with drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid - histamine antagonists and proton pump inhibitors. Surgery is considered in cases where other forms of treatment have failed.
Change of habits to manage GERD
Lifestyle, along with anatomical and functional factors, significantly contributes to GERD. It is thus not surprising that lifestyle modifications tend to be the first line of treatment for it. Recent large-scale studies from Japan indicate the usefulness of lifestyle interventions, both as a stand-alone treatment and in combination with antireflux medications. Pay attention to your symptoms and what aggravates them in order to make necessary, uniquely yours, lifestyle changes.
For many people with mild symptoms, lifestyle changes are an effective therapy that either reduces or completely eliminates GERD. However, for a successful relief of more severe symptoms, behavior adjustments need to be combined with antireflux medications that reduce stomach acidity. The effectiveness of these medications in treating GERD is reported in numerous clinical studies. The type of therapy you need will depend on the severity of your symptoms.
Last updated: January 27, 2017