October 20, 2010

Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)

If you have heartburn more than twice a week, you may have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.? The chronic heartburn condition is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions.? When operating normally, the sphincter only allows food and liquids to flow one direction – into the stomach.? GERD occurs when stomach acid is allowed to flow the opposite way, and up into the lower esophagus. ?This results in pain and irritation of the esophagus.

What causes GERD?

GERD has several causes ranging from health and hormonal abnormalities, to daily habits.

  • Medicines: Certain medications can be pointed to as causes for, and irritants of, GERD. Over the counter pain medicines called NSAIDS like aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as vitamin supplements like iron, potassium and calcium.
  • Health: Hormones help control the contractions of the lower esophageal sphincter, so pregnant women often find they suffer from frequent heartburn. Additionally, a small percentage of people with Type 1 Diabetes have a digestive disorder (called gastroparesis). It delays food passage out of the stomach, causing pressure to build and leading to GERD. There is also a condition called Hiatal Hernia that is thought to worsen the symptoms of GERD. This happens when a part of the stomach is displaced and either forced into the lower esophagus, or beside it.
  • Foods: It’s difficult to point to one certain food that causes heartburn, but some foods can cause it more frequently than others. Things like garlic, citrus, caffeine, alcohol and onions can make heartburn worse. But, everyone has their own triggers – something that may cause heartburn in one person, someone else with GERD may not react to at all.
  • Habits: Daily routines can also cause GERD. Things like wearing clothes that are too tight and smoking can cause acid build up. Even if you’re just a little overweight, that added pressure on your abdomen can trigger heartburn.

What are the symptoms?

GERD presents with a few symptoms.? They include:

  • Frequent heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Difficulty swallowing

These symptoms can be exacerbated if you lay down to soon after eating, eat a large meal, or even bend down to lift something heavy.

What can you do?

If you have GERD, there are many options for treatment.? If you’re a smoker, quit.? If you’re overweight, loose a few pounds.? You should also use caution with medicines known to aggravate GERD.

Even a change in diet can have a profound effect.? Try keeping a food journal and track what foods set off your heartburn, then avoid them.? Also, wait 2 to 3 hours after eating to go to bed, and eat smaller, more frequent meals to avoid pressure build up in the stomach.

Over the counter antacids or prescription medications can also be helpful.

If all else fails, your doctor may recommend surgery.? The procedure involves attaching the stomach around the lower esophagus, tightening the muscles there and blocking acid from making its way up.? However, this is generally a last resort.

For more on this condition and coping with its symptoms without surgery, read our Reflux Remedy Report.

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