By Michel Kafrouni, M.D.
Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine
Everyone will experience acid reflux at least once in their lifetime. Around a third of Americans experience heartburn -the most common symptom of acid reflux- on a regular basis. A large percentage of those patients with acid reflux go untreated and even undiagnosed leading to serious future complications. Educating ones-self on heartburn and acid reflux may help answer a lot of pending questions regarding the disease, its causes and how to prevent it.
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux, heartburn, peptic esophagitis, reflux esophagitis are all synonyms for the same disease called GERD. Normally, the food passes from the throat to the stomach through the esophagus. A ring of muscle fibers prevents food from moving backward into the esophagus. These muscle fibers are called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately allowing the stomach’s contents to flow up into the esophagus. The lining of the esophagus is not equipped to deal with the acidic stomach content leading to inflammation (esophagitis) that will translate into heartburn indigestion and swallowing difficulties. Down the line the chronic inflammation will cause mucosal progression into Barrett’s esophagus a precancerous lesion leading to esophageal cancer if not treated.
Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD. Other symptoms are also common like the following:
- Chest pain
- Hoarseness or sore throat
- Trouble swallowing or feeling like your food is stuck
- Frequent burping
- Burning in the back of your throat
- Bitter or acid taste on your mouth
If you have one or more of the above symptoms then you need to discuss them with your physician to get early evaluation and treatment.
The battle to beat GERD starts with basic preventive measures that include dietary changes such as avoiding reflux inducing foods like spicy and greasy foods, carbonated and caffeinated drinks as well as citrus and tomato based products (an extensive list of those products can be obtained from your physician’s office). Life style changes are essential in the fight against GERD these changes include losing weight (5 % of total body weight or more is recommended), fasting for 3 hours before going to sleep, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and elevating the head of the bed are all important steps towards controlling the symptoms. For many people, living with acid reflux doesn’t have to be a constant battle.
Even if the above mentioned dietary and life style changes did not provide relief then resorting to medical and even surgical therapy can achieve successful control of GERD symptoms in the great majority of patients.
If you are suffering from constant symptoms of acid reflux, visit your gastroenterologist for possible treatment options. Log on to www.gastroconsultants.com to find a location near you.